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Science-based decision making in a high-risk energy production environment

Debbie Weiser

Published August 3, 2016, SCEC Contribution #6484, 2016 SCEC Annual Meeting Poster #180

Energy production practices that may induce earthquakes require decisions about acceptable risk before projects begin. How much ground shaking, structural damage, infrastructure damage, or delay of geothermal power and other operations is tolerable? I review a few mitigation strategies as well as existing protocol in several U.S. states. Timely and accurate scientific information can assist in determining the costs and benefits of altering production parameters. These issues can also be addressed with probability estimates of adverse effects (“costs”), frequency of earthquakes of different sizes, and associated impacts of different magnitude earthquakes.

When risk management decisions based on robust science are well-communicated to stakeholders, mitigation efforts benefit. Effective communications elements include a) the risks and benefits of different actions (e.g. using a traffic light protocol); b) the factors to consider when determining acceptable risk; and c) the probability of different magnitude events.

I present a case example for The Geysers geothermal field in California, to discuss locally “acceptable” and “unacceptable” earthquakes and share nearby communities’ responses to smaller and larger magnitude earthquakes. I use the USGS’s “Did You Feel It?” data archive to sample how often felt events occur, and how many of those are above acceptable magnitudes (to both local residents and operators). Using this information, I develop a science-based decision-making framework, in the case of potentially risky earthquakes, for lessening seismic risk and other negative consequences. This includes assessing future earthquake probabilities based on past earthquake records. One of my goals is to help characterize uncertainties in a way that they can be managed; to this end, I present simple and accessible approaches that can be used in the decision making process.

Weiser, D. (2016, 08). Science-based decision making in a high-risk energy production environment. Poster Presentation at 2016 SCEC Annual Meeting.

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