Fault activation by hydraulic fracturing in western Canada

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Science  16 Dec 2016:
Vol. 354, Issue 6318, pp. 1406-1409
DOI: 10.1126/science.aag2583

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Triggered quakes get unconventional

The big earthquakes induced by human activity are mostly linked with disposal of wastewater. However, Bao and Eaton implicate hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) as the culprit in western Canada (see the Perspective by Elsworth). Fracking near Fox Creek, Alberta, reactivated faults, clustering earthquakes along the old fault traces. Fracking does not appear to cause large earthquakes in many other areas that are prone to induced seismicity. Understanding the underlying causes of seismicity in different localities is vital for developing sound regulation to limit damaging earthquakes.

Science, this issue p. 1406; see also p. 1380


Hydraulic fracturing has been inferred to trigger the majority of injection-induced earthquakes in western Canada, in contrast to the Midwestern United States, where massive saltwater disposal is the dominant triggering mechanism. A template-based earthquake catalog from a seismically active Canadian shale play, combined with comprehensive injection data during a 4-month interval, shows that earthquakes are tightly clustered in space and time near hydraulic fracturing sites. The largest event [moment magnitude (MW) 3.9] occurred several weeks after injection along a fault that appears to extend from the injection zone into crystalline basement. Patterns of seismicity indicate that stress changes during operations can activate fault slip to an offset distance of >1 km, whereas pressurization by hydraulic fracturing into a fault yields episodic seismicity that can persist for months.

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