New study links seismic activity to hydraulic fracturing in B.C. and Alberta oil and gas fields
A new study has found a high degree of correlation between hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and earthquakes in the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin straddling the border between B.C. and Alberta. The WCSB contains one of the world’s largest reserves of oil and natural gas.
Fracking, which involves injecting fluids under pressure along horizontally drilled wells two or three kilometres deep, was previously thought to play a relatively minor role in both the rate and magniturde of manmade earthquakes. Now 13 researchers from Western University, University of Calgary, British Columbia Oil and Gas Commission, Alberta Geological Survey, University of Alberta, McGill and Natural Resources Canada have compared the relationship of 12,289 fracking wells and 1,236 wastewater disposal wells to magnitude 3 or larger earthquakes between 1985 and 2015. They found that seismicity increased markedly starting in about 2009, corresponding to a large increase in fracking. This has critical implications for the distribution of hazard and the assessment of risk to the public and infrastructure, according to the study. Even though less than 0.3 per cent of the fracking operations were associated with earthquakes, "considering that thousands of such wells are drilled every year in the WCSB, the implications for hazard are nevertheless significant, particularly if multiple operations are located in close proximity to critical infrastructure."
The new study builds on previous ones including a BC Oil and Gas Commission investigation of earthquakes in B.C.’s Horn River Basin released in August 2012. It concluded that the seismic activity was caused by fracking and recommended additional seismograph stations to monitor induced seismicity in northeast British Columbia.
More than half, 57 per cent, of British Columbians are worried about fracking triggering earthquakes, according to an Insights West survey published last week. Fifty-three per cent of respondents were concerned that fracking increased health problems among residents, and 51 per cent that it leads to higher carbon emissions. Other concerns include the perception of containment ponds being an environmental hazard (68 per cent), the negative impact and alteration of the landscape (62 per cent) and the contamination of the water supply (also 62 per cent). The survey also found public support faltering for B.C.’s proposed LNG industry.
A guide to B.C.'s shale gas boom can be found here.
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