The spatial footprint of injection wells in a global compilation of induced earthquake sequences

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Science  31 Aug 2018:
Vol. 361, Issue 6405, pp. 899-904
DOI: 10.1126/science.aat5449

Seismic limits for hard and soft rock

Induced earthquakes from oil, gas, and geothermal energy exploration projects can damage infrastructure and concern the public. However, it remains unclear how far away from an injection site an earthquake can still be triggered. Goebel and Brodsky looked at 18 different earthquake-producing injection sites around the world to address this issue. Injecting fluid into softer layers increased the range for seismic hazard, whereas harder basement rock better confined the fluid. These findings should be considered when regulating and managing projects with the potential to induce seismicity.

Science, this issue p. 899


Fluid injection can cause extensive earthquake activity, sometimes at unexpectedly large distances. Appropriately mitigating associated seismic hazards requires a better understanding of the zone of influence of injection. We analyze spatial seismicity decay in a global dataset of 18 induced cases with clear association between isolated wells and earthquakes. We distinguish two populations. The first is characterized by near-well seismicity density plateaus and abrupt decay, dominated by square-root space-time migration and pressure diffusion. Injection at these sites occurs within the crystalline basement. The second population exhibits larger spatial footprints and magnitudes, as well as a power law–like, steady spatial decay over more than 10 kilometers, potentially caused by poroelastic effects. Far-reaching spatial effects during injection may increase event magnitudes and seismic hazard beyond expectations based on purely pressure-driven seismicity.

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