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What caused Alberta’s record-breaking earthquake? Check out the pits, experts say


The group of tremors, including the largest recorded earthquake in Alberta history, may be due to oil and gas activity in the area.

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The Canada earthquake on Tuesday night recorded a 5.8-magnitude tremor that shook much of northwestern Alberta and British Columbia.

According to the agency, the epicenter was located about 45 kilometers southwest of the town of Peace River and “it was preceded by two earthquakes of magnitude 5.2,” followed by 14 more tremors. According to the province’s energy regulator, the events occurred at depths of about six kilometers, which is inconsistent with other previous events caused by oil and gas activity.

Aftershocks continue to shake the region.

Hundreds of citizens and workers as far away as Calgary, Edmonton, Dawson Creek and Site C Dam felt the earthquake cluster. Other agencies such as the USGS also reported shaking in the area.

The organizer will not confirm the reason

Alberta’s energy regulator has stated that there is currently no evidence that the activity was caused by fracking but that “further analysis is needed”. Fracking involves injecting sand, water, or other fluids into underground layers of rock in order to force out bulk oil or gas or to remove contaminated water used in the process.

Jill Atkinson, a seismic hazard specialist who has studied industrial earthquakes in western Canada, noted, “The cause of this sequence has not yet been determined, but most events in this region are caused by hydraulic fracturing, sewage disposal, or some combination of the two.” .”

The oil and gas industry operates oil wells in the area, and there are many well platforms near the epicenter. About 50,000 of the 700,000 oil and gas wells drilled in Alberta are used for waste disposal or produced water.

The Alberta Energy Regulator has acknowledged the presence of sewage disposal wells in the area. “Although there are fluid dumps in the area, none are in the immediate vicinity of the seismic events, and there have been no changes in fluid dump rates over the past year,” the AER wrote in an email to The Tyee.

The regulator did not mention that the injection of fluids could unexpectedly cause tremors tens of kilometers away from the exciting drilling site. Or that earthquakes could occur kilometers below the injection site. Texas studies show that even shallow water shaking can cause deep earthquakes.

Injecting water as a by-product of oil and gas drilling has caused tremors of magnitude 5.0 or higher in Oklahoma and other oil and gas regions such as British Columbia.

Earthquakes ranging in magnitude from 5.0 to 5.9 are easily felt and can cause damage to buildings. Earthquakes of 6.0 and above can damage structures designed to be earthquake-resistant.

In the 1980s and 1990s, water injection for oil recovery at the Eagle West field started a swarm of earthquakes around Fort St. John, British Columbia, which until then had been classified as a low seismic area.

Alberta’s record-breaking earthquakes followed a similar swarm of tremors caused by a fracking operation in northern British Columbia just three weeks earlier.

Experts call for ‘detailed investigation and review’

Alan Chapman, former chief geologist for the British Columbia Oil and Gas Commission, considers the 5.8 earthquake in Alberta to be a very significant event.

“If it occurred near infrastructure or population centers, you cannot rule out serious damage or impacts on public safety. I believe that an event of this magnitude should lead to a large, detailed investigation and review, involving outside specialists.” [Alberta Energy Regulator] And people who are funded by industry.”

More reasons to take fracturing earthquakes seriously Read More

In a scientific paper last year, Chapman warned that stress changes caused by fluid injection via fracturing or water disposal could lead to an earthquake of magnitude 5.0 or greater in the area that would pose a hazard to the public. Atkinson and Chapman both proposed rift exclusion zones to protect people and infrastructure.

When the shale gas industry injects fluids and sand at high pressure into deep and shallow wells to open oil and gas deposits trapped in dense shale formations, it creates a network of cracks that can also connect to water areas and other industry well sites and faults.

Scientists say reactivation of these faults can then trigger earthquakes, sometimes days after the fracture has healed. Injecting wastewater underground can destabilize a geological formation.

For more than a decade, the massive application of the two technologies has caused earthquakes that have destroyed infrastructure in fracking areas and even killed citizens in China.

BC Fracking Change or Predicting Earthquake Damage: Read More Report

As documented by the USGS, Alberta’s oil and gas industry has been rocking the province with decades of earthquakes, either due to fluid injection or fluid extraction. Both processes can alter pressure in geological formations and cause them to slip and fracture.

In 1970, a deep well injection site likely triggered a magnitude 5.1 earthquake in an oil field near Snipe Lake, also in Peace River country. This site is located about 100 kilometers from the current swarm of earthquakes.

In the Cold Lake area of ​​Alberta, heavy oil melted by steam injection began to make hundreds of small tremors with a strength of about 2.0 times in the 1980s.

Extraction of sour gases from the Strachan field near the Rocky Mountain House has been responsible for clusters of earthquakes in that area for decades.

A warning about the earthquake risk to dams posed by fracking has been a long read more

And since the advent of high-pressure hydraulic fracturing nearly 15 years ago, the technology has been linked to seismic clusters and events — some over 4.0 — in Peace, southern Alberta, Red Deer and Fox Creek, Alberta. Some events and clusters exceeded magnitude 4.0 and seismic patterns have changed in the province.

The tremors from a saltwater elimination can last up to a year and a half after the activity is suspended.

Tyee is still awaiting answers from the Alberta Energy Regulator to the following questions:

Are there any hydraulic fracturing sites within a radius of 10 km from the epicenter in the past six months?

If so, what are the location coordinates and dates?

Are there any fluid disposal wells or water injection wells within a 10 km radius of the epicenter that have been dumped or injected in the last 6 months?

If so, what are the location coordinates and dates?




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