Oil-gas exploration linked to small quakes, Alberta scientists say

Rural Albertans have been saying for years they can feel tremors under their feet near oil and gas activity, especially around areas of hydraulic fracturing — also known as fracking.

While the movements are small, and don’t cause damage, they have been cause for concern.

The U.S Geological Survey has said in the past there is a connection between oil and gas production and seismic activity. While the science in Alberta isn’t settled, researchers say there is a growing correlation. 

The Alberta Energy Regulator says they are also keeping a close watch on the pressure in deep well disposals.

“The papers in the science community do reference hydraulic fracturing as a possible cause [of earthquakes],” AER spokesman Bob Willard told CBC News.

“But I think most scientists would suggest that deep well disposal and storage would be far more likely as an industrial activity that might cause one.”

Monitoring underway

Willard says Alberta has more than 3,000 disposal wells, which are injected with everything from waste water to toxic fluids used in fracking over long periods of time, but that number is expected to grow as the industry expands.

“We are continually putting, typically waste water, deep in the Earth and they are pumping it in over longer periods of time,” said Andrew Beaton, the director of the Alberta Geological Survey.

“What happens is over that long period of time the stresses can increase in and around that well bore, and if the rate of injection is too fast or if there is a geological feature, such as a fault or fracture in that area, that can be pressured up and that can actually cause some movement.”

The province says it’s important to remember the disposal wells are regulated and new monitoring is making it easier to identify problems.

“We have a notification system set up so that if our network actually records some high-magnitude events we’re notified instantly,” Beaton said, adding that information would then be shared among the province’s regulatory agencies.

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