Skip to main content

Can oil drilling cause earthquakes

The intersection between human activities and geological phenomena has become increasingly apparent in recent years. One significant area of concern is the correlation between oil extraction activities and induced seismic events. This article delves into the seismic repercussions of oil extraction and explores how to prevent major induced earthquakes using new innovative technologies. The focus is on notable incidents, including the February 2016 Magnitude 5.1 earthquake in Oklahoma and three other major earthquakes attributed to oil extraction practices

The Oklahoma Earthquake of February 2016: A Turning Point

In February 2016, Oklahoma experienced a significant seismic event with a magnitude of 5.1. The earthquake was widely attributed to wastewater injection, a byproduct of oil and gas extraction. This event prompted rigorous scientific investigation and led to regulatory measures aimed at mitigating future induced seismic activities.

The Huaxi Earthquake of 2008: Unraveling the Human Factor

In 2008, an earthquake with a magnitude of 5.9 struck Huaxi, China. This seismic event was linked to intense hydraulic fracturing activities in the region. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves injecting high-pressure fluids into the Earth to extract oil and gas. In this case, the injection of fluids into the ground triggered seismic activity along fault lines, causing the earthquake. The incident underscored the potential dangers associated with hydraulic fracturing and raised concerns about its environmental impact.

The Montney Play Induced Seismicity: Unearthing Canada's Concerns

In Canada, the Montney Play, a prolific natural gas reservoir, has been associated with induced seismicity due to hydraulic fracturing activities. The injection of fluids into the ground during the fracking process can trigger earthquakes. While most induced seismic events in this region are minor, they raise concerns about the long-term implications of hydraulic fracturing on geological stability.

The Netherlands Groningen Gas Field: A Lesson in Risk Management

The Groningen gas field in the Netherlands, one of Europe's largest, has been linked to induced earthquakes. The extraction of natural gas caused land subsidence and seismic activities, impacting local communities. The Dutch government responded by implementing production caps and investing in reinforcement measures for vulnerable structures. This case underscores the importance of proactive risk management strategies when dealing with oil and gas extraction in seismically sensitive regions.

Various types of fluids are injected into wells

In the process of oil production, various types of fluids are injected into wells for different purposes. Some common examples include:

  • Water Injection: Water is often injected into reservoirs to maintain reservoir pressure and enhance oil recovery. This process, known as water flooding, helps displace oil towards production wells and maintain reservoir pressure, increasing the overall yield of the oil field.
  • Polymer Flooding: Polymers, which are large molecules, can be mixed with water and injected into reservoirs. The viscous polymer solution displaces oil more effectively than water alone, enhancing oil recovery.
  • Steam Injection: In heavy oil reservoirs or oil sands, steam is injected into wells to heat the oil and reduce its viscosity. This makes it easier to extract the oil and pump it to the surface in a process known as steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD).
  • Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Injection: CO2 can be injected into reservoirs in a process called carbon dioxide flooding or CO2-EOR (enhanced oil recovery). CO2 reduces the oil viscosity and can also cause the oil to swell, aiding in its extraction from the reservoir.
  • Chemical Injection: Various chemicals, such as surfactants and polymers, can be injected into wells to alter the properties of the reservoir fluids. Surfactants can help in reducing interfacial tension between oil and water, enhancing oil recovery, while polymers can increase the viscosity of injected water, improving sweep efficiency.
  • Natural Gas Injection: Natural gas, including gases like methane, can be injected into reservoirs. This process, known as gas injection, helps maintain reservoir pressure and can also improve oil recovery by the gas dissolving in the oil, making it easier to flow.
  • Nitrogen Injection: Nitrogen gas can be injected into reservoirs to maintain pressure and displace oil. Nitrogen injection is particularly useful in reservoirs with light oils.

These injection techniques are part of enhanced oil recovery (EOR) methods, designed to maximize the extraction of oil from reservoirs after primary and secondary recovery methods have been employed. The choice of injection fluid depends on the characteristics of the reservoir, the type of oil, and the desired recovery outcomes.

Induced earthquakes during oil extraction

The process of extracting oil can increase the pressure in underground reservoirs, which can, in turn, trigger seismic activity. This is especially true in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, where high-pressure fluid is injected into the ground to fracture rock formations and release oil or natural gas.

Induced seismicity can also occur when fluids are injected into disposal wells. These wells are used to dispose of wastewater from various industrial activities, including oil and gas production. When fluids are injected into the ground at high pressures, it can lubricate existing fault lines, causing them to slip and generate earthquakes.

Earthquakes can occur due to oil drilling and related activities, they are generally of low magnitude. Regulatory measures and monitoring efforts are in place in many regions to mitigate the risks associated with induced seismicity.

Earling: Revolutionizing Seismic Risk Assessment

Earling's short-term seismic risk models offer a powerful tool in managing the risks associated with induced earthquakes by pinpointing high-risk seismic time windows. These models utilize sophisticated algorithms and comprehensive data analysis to accurately identify periods when seismic activity is more likely to occur. By delineating these high-risk time windows, industries involved in activities such as hydraulic fracturing (fracking) can take proactive measures to mitigate potential disasters. One significant effort is suspending fracking operations during the time frames identified as high-risk seismic periods. This strategic decision, informed by Earling's precise predictions, can prevent the escalation of a minor seismic event into a major earthquake. Temporarily halting drilling activities during these vulnerable periods allows the Earth's subsurface to naturally dissipate stress, reducing the likelihood of inducing significant seismic events. Such a precautionary approach not only safeguards communities and critical infrastructure but also demonstrates the industry's commitment to responsible practices and environmental stewardship. Employing Earling's short-term seismic risk models in this manner not only aids in risk management but also contributes significantly to the overall safety and sustainability of energy production practices.