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Introduction to Induced Seismicity
New Article in Science Magazine
Myths and Misconceptions
Oilfield waste arrives by tanker truck at a wastewater disposal facility near Platteville, Colo. After removal of solids and oil, the wastewater is injected into a deep well for permanent storage underground. Photo by Bill Ellsworth, USGS.
Within the central and eastern United States, the number of earthquakes has increased dramatically over the past few years. Between the years 1973–2008, there was an average of 21 earthquakes of magnitude three and larger in the central and eastern United States. This rate jumped to an average of 99 M3+ earthquakes per year in 2009–2013, and the rate continues to rise. In 2014, alone, there were 659 M3 and larger earthquakes. Most of these earthquakes are in the magnitude 3–4 range, large enough to have been felt by many people, yet small enough to rarely cause damage. There were reports of damage from some of the larger events, including the M5.6 Prague, Oklahoma earthquake and the M5.3 Trinidad, Colorado earthquake.
This increase in earthquakes prompts two important questions:
- Are they natural, or man-made?
- What should be done in the future as we address the causes and consequences of these events to reduce associated risks?
Increasing Rate of Earthquakes Beginning in 2009
Cumulative number of earthquakes with a magnitude of 3.0 or larger in the central and eastern United States, 1970–2016. The long-term rate of approximately 29 earthquakes per year increased sharply starting around 2009.
The USGS is currently studying seismicity that may be induced at 6 locations across the United States. These studies involve earthquake monitoring, examining industrial data, and evaluating any relationships between seismicity and industrial actions. Previous USGS studies have shown a strong connection in many locations between the deep injection of fluids and increased earthquake rates.
The USGS uses numerical simulations of earth processes to:
- Evaluate the physical relationships between fluid injection and earthquakes at specific sites
- Simulate possible future behaviors of new and ongoing injection projects
The USGS is currently developing new methods to evaluate the hazard due to induced earthquakes. These methods will account for the rapid changes in earthquake rate that we have witnessed in the past few years.
Special Issues on Induced Seismicity
The June issue of The Leading Edge features a special section on Injection-induced seismicity. Four USGS studies were included as part of this issue.
Yes, Humans Are Causing Earthquakes
USGS scientist Justin Rubinstein gives an overview on human-caused earthquakes.
USGS scientist Bill Ellsworth discusses the science behind induced earthquakes.
- Andrew Barbour
- Harley Benz
- Oliver Boyd
- Rufus Catchings
- George Choy
- Elizabeth Cochran
- Sara Dougherty
- Bill Ellsworth
- Jonathon Godt
- Steve Hickman
- Susan Hough
- J. Ole Kaven
- Andrea Llenos
- Dan McNamara
- Art McGarr
- Andrew Michael
- Chuck Mueller
- Mark Petersen
- Evelyn Roeloffs
- Justin Rubinstein
- Fabia Terra
- Rob Williams