Triggered earthquakes and deep well activities

Craig Nicholson

Published 1992, SCEC Contribution #1578

Earthquakes can be triggered by any significant perturbation of the hydrologic regime. In areas where potentially active faults are already close to failure, the increased pore pressure resulting from fluid injection, or, alternatively, the massive extraction of fluid or gas, can induce sufficient stress and/or strain changes that, with time, can lead to sudden catastrophic failure in a major earthquake. Injection-induced earthquakes typically result from the reduction in frictional strength along pre-existing, nearby faults caused by the increased formation fluid pressure. Earthquakes associated with production appear to respond to more complex mechanisms of subsidence, crustal unloading, and poroelastic changes in response to applied strains induced by the massive withdrawal of subsurface material. As each of these different types of triggered events can occur up to several years after well activities have begun (or even several years after all well activities have stopped), this suggests that the actual triggering process may be a very complex combination of effects, particularly if both fluid extraction and injection have taken place locally. To date, more than thirty cases of earthquakes triggered by well activities can be documented throughout the United States and Canada. Based on these case histories, it is evident that, owing to preexisting stress conditions in the upper crust, certain areas tend to have higher probabilities of exhibiting such induced seismicity.

Nicholson, C. (1992). Triggered earthquakes and deep well activities. Pure and Applied Geophysics, 139, 561-578.