The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Business

July 11, 2013

Study: Distant quakes can affect oil, gas fields

LOS ANGELES — The powerful earthquake that rocked Japan in 2011 set off tremors around a West Texas oil field, according to new research that suggests oil and gas drilling operations may make fault zones sensitive to shock waves from distant big quakes.

It’s long been known that large quakes can trigger minor jolts thousands of miles from the epicenter. Volcanically active spots like Yellowstone National Park often experience shaking after a large distant event.

Less is known about the influence of remote quakes on fault lines that have been weakened by man-made activity like the deep disposal of wastewater at the Texas oil field. A new study led by researchers at Columbia University and published Friday in the journal Science suggests a strong quake that strikes halfway around the globe can set off small to mid-size quakes near injection wells in the U.S. heartland.

“The seismic waves act as the straw that breaks the camel’s back, pushing the faults that last little bit toward an earthquake,” lead researcher Nicholas van der Elst said in an email.

There has been heightened scrutiny in recent years of quakes near industrial areas as drilling is ramped up to satisfy the country’s energy hunger. Research has shown that wastewater disposal — the process of pumping fluids deep into the ground at high pressures — can weaken nearby fault lines and even produce quakes big enough to be felt. The controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which uses high-pressure mixtures of water, sand and chemicals to extract natural gas or oil, also can trigger quakes, but they’re typically microquakes — smaller than magnitude-2.

By poring through the quake archives, van der Elst and colleagues found evidence that faults near wastewater injection sites were loaded with stress when ripples from a faraway earthquake traveled around the planet.

They contend:

—The magnitude-9 Japan quake set off a swarm in the West Texas town of Snyder, where oil extraction has caused shaking in the past.

—The magnitude-8.8 Chile quake in 2010 triggered a magnitude-4.1 in Prague, Okla., home of active injection wells.

—The Chile quake also set off a series of small quakes in the Colorado town of Trinidad near the New Mexico state line known for extracting natural gas from coal beds.

In those instances, the triggered seismic activity was followed months later by a moderate quake and researchers say that could be a warning sign of stress on the fault. The triggered events are too small to relieve all the stress and some of that stress can be transferred to nearby faults, making a future larger event more likely, said van der Elst.

Not all sites near injection wells showed increased shaking after a strong distant quake. The team found the most affected areas were places where pumping has been going on for decades.

University of Utah mechanical engineer Sidney Green called the results interesting but “rather speculative” and said they need more study.

If the observations bear out, it could help oil and gas operators know “where it’s safe to inject and where it’s not,” said Julie Shemeta, a geophysicist and president of Colorado-based MEQ Geo Inc., a consulting company.

Despite a history of man-made quakes near wastewater injection sites, only a small number of the country’s 30,000 disposal wells are a problem, said U.S. Geological Survey seismologist William Ellsworth, who published an article in the journal reviewing the state of research.

Ellsworth said fracking does not pose a high risk for triggering quakes strong enough to feel. The largest man-made quake linked to fracking was a magnitude-3.6 in British Columbia in 2009.

In a third quake-related paper appearing in Science, researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, found increased seismic activity over a 30-year period around a Southern California geothermal plant located near the San Andreas Fault. The plant pumps water in and out of an underground reservoir to make steam that drives turbines.

Lead author Emily Brodsky said she has come up with a way to determine the rate of quakes from pumping at the site and plans to test the method at other geothermal plants.

 

1
Text Only
Business
  • Business Stock futures jump, lifted by Apple and Facebook

    U.S. stock futures rose sharply 30 minutes before the opening bell as investors cheered strong earnings from Apple and Facebook.

    April 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • FCC to propose pay-for-priority Internet standards

    The Federal Communications Commission is set to propose new open Internet rules that would allow content companies to pay for faster delivery over the so-called “last mile” connection to people’s homes, but enhance scrutiny of such deals so they don’t harm competition or limit free speech.

    April 24, 2014

  • Facebook 1Q results soar; CFO to step down

    Facebook’s earnings nearly tripled and revenue grew sharply in the first quarter, surpassing Wall Street’s expectations thanks to an 82 percent increase in advertising revenue.

    April 24, 2014

  • Apple increases stock buyback, will split stock

    Apple plans to buy back an additional $30 billion of its stock, raise its quarterly dividend by 8 percent and split its stock for the first time in nine years.

    April 24, 2014

  • Sales of new US homes plunge 14.5 percent in March

    The number of Americans buying new homes plummeted in March to the slowest pace in eight months, a sign that real estate’s spring buying season is off to a weak start.

    April 23, 2014

  • Business US stocks edge lower after a six-day rise

    Stocks edged mostly lower Wednesday, breaking a six-day winning streak, as investors were disappointed by the latest round of earnings from U.S. companies.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • First lady announces one-stop job site for vets

    First lady Michelle Obama has announced a new online effort to link soldiers leaving the military with jobs that match their skill sets.

    April 23, 2014

  • 3M plant expansion to create 22 jobs

    An $18.7 million expansion at the 3M Co. manufacturing plant in Nevada will create 22 new jobs, a company official said Wednesday. “We started 43 years ago as a small manufacturer,” said Todd Cantrell, plant manager, in a meeting with employees. “We are now the largest 3M plant in the state of Missouri and one of the largest of all 3M plants.”

    April 23, 2014

  • Feds seek $211K in fines from Minn. company

    Federal safety regulators are proposing $211,000 in fines for a Minnesota agriculture company that authorities say repeatedly failed to make sure workers weren’t exposed grain dust hazards in Montana.

    April 23, 2014

  • Advocates vow to revive Navajo junk-food tax

    Facing a high prevalence of diabetes, many American Indian tribes are returning to their roots with community and home gardens, cooking classes that incorporate traditional foods, and running programs to encourage healthy lifestyles.

    April 23, 2014

Poll

A Missouri Senate committee has adopted a state budget provision that would prevent public colleges and universities from offering in-state tuition rates to students living in the country illegally. Do you agree with this?

Yes.
No.
     View Results
Facebook
Twitter Updates
Follow us on twitter
NDN Video