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Induced Seismicity Potential in Energy Technologies

Induced Seismicity Potential in Energy Technologies

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Published by earthandlife
In the past several years, some energy technologies that inject or extract fluid from the Earth, such as oil and gas development and geothermal energy development, have been found or suspected to cause seismic events, drawing heightened public attention. Although only a very small fraction of injection and extraction activities among the hundreds of thousands of energy development sites in the United States have induced seismicity at levels noticeable to the public, understanding the potential for inducing felt seismic events and for limiting their occurrence and impacts is desirable for state and federal agencies, industry, and the public at large. To better understand, limit, and respond to induced seismic events, work is needed to build robust prediction models, to assess potential hazards, and to help relevant agencies coordinate to address them.
In the past several years, some energy technologies that inject or extract fluid from the Earth, such as oil and gas development and geothermal energy development, have been found or suspected to cause seismic events, drawing heightened public attention. Although only a very small fraction of injection and extraction activities among the hundreds of thousands of energy development sites in the United States have induced seismicity at levels noticeable to the public, understanding the potential for inducing felt seismic events and for limiting their occurrence and impacts is desirable for state and federal agencies, industry, and the public at large. To better understand, limit, and respond to induced seismic events, work is needed to build robust prediction models, to assess potential hazards, and to help relevant agencies coordinate to address them.

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Published by: earthandlife on Jun 15, 2012
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07/16/2012

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four energy technologies that involve uid injec
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tion or withdrawal from Earth’s subsurface:geothermal energy; conventional oil and gasdevelopment including enhanced oil recovery;shale gas recovery; and carbon capture and storage.
Understanding the Mechanisms of InducedSeismicity
Research at several energy development sites has provided a better understanding of the factors thatinduce seismicity, which include the presence,orientation, and physical properties of nearby
T
o meet the challenge of ensuring areliable energy supply for the UnitedStates, several energy technologiesare being developed and used. Among themare technologies that involve the injectionor withdrawal of uids from Earth’ssubsurface. These technologies produceenergy in the form of oil, natural gas, andgeothermal energy, and some also producewastes that may be managed throughdisposal or storage by injection deep intothe ground. Waste water from oil and gas production and carbon dioxide from avariety of industrial processes may bemanaged through underground injection.Since the 1920s, scientists have knownthat pumping uids in or out of the Earthhas the potential to cause seismic events.Seismic events attributable to humanactivities are called “induced seismicevents.” For example, earthquakes inBasel, Switzerland between 2006 and 2008were related to geothermal energy develop
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ment, and a string of small seismic events inArkansas, Ohio, and Texas in the past severalyears has been related to waste water disposalassociated with oil and gas production. Theseevents have not resulted in loss of life andgenerally have not caused signicant structuraldamage, but their effects were felt by localresidents, and have drawn the issue of inducedseismicity into public view.This report examines the scale, scope, andconsequences of induced seismicity related to
In the past several years, some energy technologies that inject or extract uid from the Earth,
such as oil and gas development and geothermal energy development, have been found orsuspected to cause seismic events, drawing heightened public attention. Although only a verysmall fraction of injection and extraction activities among the hundreds of thousands of energydevelopment sites in the United States have induced seismicity at levels noticeable to the public,understanding the potential for inducing felt seismic events and for limiting their occurrenceand impacts is desirable for state and federal agencies, industry, and the public at large. Tobetter understand, limit, and respond to induced seismic events, work is needed to buildrobust prediction models, to assess potential hazards, and to help relevant agencies coordinateto address them.
Induced Seismicity Potential inEnergy Technologies
Figure 1.
Sites in the United States and Canada with documentedreports of seismicity caused by or likely related to energydevelopment from various energy technologies. The size of thecircle indicates the range of magnitude of the seismic event. Thereporting of small induced seismic events is limited by thedetection and location thresholds of local surface-based seismicmonitoring networks.
 
 potential for induced seismicity. However, there aresite-specic characteristics that can make a difference.For example, the high-pressure hydraulic fracturingundertaken to produce geothermal energy from hot,dry rocks has caused seismic events that are largeenough to be felt. In The Geysers geothermal steameld in northern California, a vapor-dominatedgeothermal system, the large temperature difference between the injected uid and the geothermal reser 
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voir results in signicant cooling of the hot subsurfacerocks. This causes the rocks to contract and allows therelease of local stresses that result in signicantinduced seismicity that is not directly related tochange in pore pressure.
Oil and gas development 
Conventional oil and gas development extracts oil,gas, and water from pore spaces in rocks in subsur 
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face reservoirs. Well bores penetrate rock that is under signicant natural pressure, allowing oil and water within the reservoir to ow to the surface, usuallyaided by pumping. Once the pressure in the oil andgas reservoirs declines, additional techniques such assecondary recovery and tertiary recovery (the latter isoften called enhanced oil recovery) can be used toextract some of the remaining oil and gas. More than100,000 wells are presently used for secondaryrecovery; over the past several decades approximately18 sites have been linked to incidences where theinjection was suspected or determined a likely causefor induced seismicity. Among the tens of thousandsfaults, the volumes, rates, pressures, and temperaturesof uids being injected or withdrawn, and the rock  properties of Earth’s subsurface in that location.In general, existing faults and fractures are stable, but a change in subsurface pore pressure—the pres
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sure of uid in the pores and fractures of rock—for example due to the injection or extraction of uidfrom Earth’s subsurface, may change the crustalstresses acting on a nearby fault, creating a seismicevent. Net uid balance (the total balance of uidintroduced into or removed from the subsurface)appears to have the most direct correlation to themagnitude of induced seismic events. Thus, energytechnology projects that maintain a balance betweenthe amount of uid injected and the amount with
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drawn may induce fewer felt seismic events thantechnologies that do not maintain balance.While the general mechanisms that create inducedseismic events are well understood, scientists arecurrently unable to accurately predict the magnitudeor occurrence of such events due to the lack of comprehensive data on the complex natural rock systems at particular energy development sites.Predictions of induced seismicity at specic energydevelopment sites will continue to rely on both theo
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retical modeling, and data and observations frommeasurements made in the eld.
Energy Technologies
Of all the energy-related injection and extractionactivities conducted in the United States, onlya very small fraction have induced seismicityat levels noticeable to the public (that is, abovemagnitude 2.0). Different energy technologiestypically use different injection rates and pressures, uid volumes, and injection dura
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tion—factors that affect the likelihood andmagnitude of an induced earthquake.
Geothermal energy extraction
Geothermal energy is the use of heat from theEarth as an energy source. There are threedifferent types of geothermal energyresources: vapor-dominated, where steam iscontained in pores or fractures of hot rock;liquid dominated, where hot water iscontained in the rock; and enhancedgeothermal systems, where hot, dry rock isfractured and a uid is injected to circulateand heat. All three processes usually attemptto maintain a balance between uid volumesextracted for energy production and thosereplaced by injection, which helps keepreservoir pressure constant and reduces the
Figure 2.
Schematic diagram of a shale gas well following hydraulic fracturetreatment, with the relative depths of local water wells shown for scale.Formation depths and horizontal well length varies; numbers shown areapproximate length and depth averages in North America. The upper rightinset shows the fractures (yellow) created during hydraulic fracture treatmentin stages.
SOURCE: Adapted from Southwestern Energy.
MicroseismicMonitoring WellDrilling Rig &Treatment WellDomesticWell
 
felt seismic events due to increases in pore pressureover time; potential effects of large-scale carboncapture storage projects require further research.
Hazards and Risk Assessment
Understanding what is meant by hazard and risk related to induced seismicity is critical to any discus
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sion of the options. The
hazard of induced seismicity
 
considers the earthquakes and other physical effectsthat could be generated by human activities associatedwith energy production or carbon sequestration. The
risk of induced seismicity
considers how inducedearthquakes might cause damage to structures andhuman injuries or deaths. If seismic events occur inareas where there are no structures or humans present,there is no risk.Currently, there are no standard methods to imple
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ment risk assessments for induced seismicity. Thetypes of information and data required to provide arobust risk assessment include net pore pressures andstresses; information on faults; data on backgroundseismicity; and gross statistics of induced seismicityand uid injection or extraction.Quantifying hazard and risk requires probabilityassessments, which may be either statistical (based ondata) or analytical (based on scientic and engineeringmodels). These assessments can help establish specic“best practice” protocols for energy project develop
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ment, which aim to reduce the possibility of a feltseismic event, and to mitigate the effects of an event if of wells used for enhanced oil recovery in the UnitedStates, incidences of felt induced seismicity appear to be very rare.Shale formations may contain oil, gas, and/or liquids. Shales have very low permeability that preventthese uids from easily owing into a well bore, and sowells may be drilled horizontally and hydraulicallyfractured to allow hydrocarbons to ow up the well bore. Hydraulic fracturing to date has been conrmedas the cause for small, felt seismic events at one loca
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tion in the world.
Wastewater Disposal Wells
Injection wells can be drilled to dispose of the water generated by geothermal and oil and gas productionoperations, including shale gas production. Tens of thousands of waste water disposal wells are currentlyactive in the United States; water injection for disposalhas been suspected or determined a likely cause for induced seismicity at approximately eight sites in the past several decades. However, the long-term effects of increasing the number of waste water disposal wells onthe potential for induced seismicity are unknown. Inaddition, wells used only for waste water disposalusually do not undergo detailed geologic review prior to injection, in contrast to wells for enhanced oilrecovery and secondary recovery.
Carbon Capture and Storage
Capturing carbon dioxide and developing means tostore it underground could,if technically successful andeconomical, help reducecarbon dioxide emissions tothe atmosphere. Limiteddata are available to evaluatethe induced seismicity potential of this technology.However, carbon captureand storage differs from
other energy technologies
 because it involves thecontinuous injection of verylarge volumes of carbondioxide under high pressure,and is intended for long termstorage with no uid with
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drawal. The large netvolumes of carbon dioxide— on the scale suggested tohelp reduce global carbondioxide emissions to theatmosphere—may have potential for inducing larger 
Table 1. Felt Induced Seismic Events Related to Energy Technology in theUnited StatesEnergy TechnologyNumber of CurrentProjectsNumber of Historical FeltEventsNumber of EventsM>4.0Locations of Events M>2.0Geothermal
Vapor-dominated (TheGeysers)1300-400 peyear since 20051 to 3 per year CALiquid-dominated2310-40 per yearPossibly oneCAEnhanced GeothermalSystem~8 pilot 2-10 per year0CA
Oil and gas
Withdrawal
~6,000 elds
20 sites5CA, IL, NB,OK, TXSecondary recovery
(waterooding)
~108,000 wellstoday18 sites3AL, CA, CO,MS, OK, TXEnhanced OilRecovery~13,000 wellstodayNone knownNone knownNone known
Hydraulic fracturingfor shale gas recovery
~35,000 wellstoday10OK
Waste water disposalwells
(Class II)~30,000 wellstoday87AR, CO, OH
Carbon capture andstorage
(small scale)1None knownNone knownNone known

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