Refer first to:
The directives, however, are not mandatory, and one operator, SandRidge Energy, has chosen not to comply.
The Corporation Commission is preparing a case in an effort to force SandRidge to cease operation of the six wells. An OCC spokesman has acknowledged, however, they are hampered by the fact that the state currently does not have a seismologist on staff. [Emphasis added]
Matt Skinner, Oklahoma Corporation Commission – “When we call up OGS (Oklahoma Geological Survey), and they can’t get their computers to come up, that’s a problem.”
Austin Holland, Oklahoma Geological Survey – “Last year we recorded, or were actually able to locate more than 5000 earthquakes and we probably had another 10,000 that our systems have identified, that we didn’t have a chance to look at.”
Reporter – “… In August, Austin Holland resigned as head seismologist at the Oklahoma Geological Survey, we were with him on his last day. … Holland leaves behind a state in which the earthquake rate continues to rise. Not long after he announced his departure, his colleague, Amber Lee Darold, did the same. Now Oklahoma, the most seismically active state in the continental US, is left without a state seismologist.” [Emphasis added]
Experts trying to stop fracking earthquakes in Alberta by Kent Morrison, March 19, 2015, Global News
Nearly two months after a 4.4 magnitude earthquake shook the area around Fox Creek, Alta., some residents are still shaken. Seismic activity in the area has been on the rise lately, but residents say there are few answers to why the earth is shaking.
“If I knew that it was going on for the last year, but nobody else knew, what else do we not know?” asked resident Barb Ryan.
Each year, Alberta averages 30 earthquakes. Since December 2013 there have been 200 in the Fox Creek area alone.
The 4.4 magnitude earthquake on Jan. 22, 2015 is the largest ever connected to fracking.
“Unfortunately that’s what it came to in order to get the attention or sound the alarm if you will,” said Ryan.
“I’m concerned and disappointed that there still isn’t enough information, enough data shared.”
Experts believe the tremors are caused hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. … The process has been blamed for contaminating drinking water and in some cases causing earthquakes. The quake in Fox Creek is the largest ever to be connected to the fracking process. Many worry that as production increases, the tremors will become more frequent and more intense.
“That’s the real concern,” said Gail Atkinson, a seismologist at the University of Western Ontario.
“While most of them are completely harmless and not even felt, there’s the potential for the odd larger event that could in fact be damaging.”
Since the 1950s, there have been 120,000 wells that have been hydraulically fractured in Alberta. Four-thousand of them are around Fox Creek.
Operations are also growing in places like Texas, Oklahoma and Ohio. All those areas are also reporting more earthquakes.
“Ohio is a place that doesn’t have many earthquakes,” said Mike Brudzinksi from the Department of Geology and Environmental Earth Science at Miami University. “We typically have a handful per year. So to have a larger number, dozens of earthquakes in a couple days, is very unusual.”
Since the Fox Creek quake in January, Alberta’s Energy Regulator has created new rules. AER now requires operators to increase the monitoring and reporting of seismic activity. Operations must stop if an earthquake 4.0 or higher is detected and anything between two and four on the scale must also be reported in the new red light system.
“Currently it’s an interim plan. It’s only for the Fox Creek area,” said Todd Shipman, manager of Landscape and Geohazards at the Alberta Energy Regulator.
“It’s because we just don’t understand what would be a good regulation. We really don’t know that answer yet. We’re trying to develop that answer and understand.”
No major earthquakes have been reported near Fox Creek since the new system was put in place.
Alberta regulator working to determine scope of the risk after Fox Creek tremor, Man-made earthquakes send shock waves through oil industry by Stephen Ewart, March 11, 2015, Calgary Herald
The cluster of earthquakes that rattled the northern Alberta town of Fox Creek earlier this year has revealed a fault line for the oil and gas industry that looms as a challenge to the future of fracking.
It’s become increasingly evident oilfield activity is contributing to the growing seismic hazard in many oil and gas producing areas in North America. … Few acts of nature are as unpredictable and potentially catastrophic as the uncontrolled shaking of the earth. The thought of companies inadvertently generating “man-made” earthquakes that could unleash that scale of destructive energy is bound to unnerve many people.
Concerns over water consumption and groundwater contamination have prompted the biggest backlash to date over the fracking revolution that’s revitalized oil and gas production in Canada and the United States. Fears over artificial earthquakes has only added to the opposition.
Natural Resources Canada reports approximately 4,000 earthquakes are detected across the country each year, with the largest and most frequent seismic activity along the West Coast. Most of the tremors are only detected with seismic equipment and major earthquakes — which cause death and severe property damage — are rare in Canada.
The AER is investigating dozens of tremors in December and January around Fox Creek. The largest, on Jan. 22, reached 4.4 on the Richter scale and was felt by people in the town of 2,000. It’s followed regulators in B.C. and Oklahoma to restrict fracking when seismic activity is recorded.
“It’s our job to take precautionary measures to ensure energy resources in the Fox Creek area and across Alberta are developed safely and responsibly,” AER executive vice-president Cal Hill wrote in a blog post last week. “The subsurface order is an interim measure until we fully understand seismic events in this zone and their potential connection with hydraulic fracturing operations.”
NDP environment critic Brian Mason has called on the Alberta government to conduct its own investigation into the cluster of quakes.
A study by the U.S. Geological Survey released last August concluded relatively shallow “induced” quakes cause less shaking and are far weaker than natural earthquakes of the same magnitude. It did warn even less-forceful quakes are still a hazard.
A study by University of Alberta researchers published in 2014 by the Journal of Geophysical Research from data collected near Rocky Mountain House concluded wastewater injected deep underground is closely linked to the increase in seismic activity near the central Alberta town.
… The biggest earthquake linked to oilfield activity in Alberta — 5.1 on the Richter scale — occurred at Snipe Lake and involved pumping wastewater into deep injection wells.
The order issued by the AER last month to increase monitoring and reporting of seismic activity applies to the Duvernay formation near Fox Creek in northwestern Alberta — where companies including Encana, ExxonMobil, and Chevron Canada operate. It’s the area where the AER has introduced a “play-based regulation” pilot project to oversee high levels of activity.
Researchers at the University of Calgary initially suggested there were more than 100 aftershocks linked to the Jan. 22 Fox Creek quake but this week they revised the estimate down to just four tremors with magnitudes between 1.4 and 2.3 on the Richter scale. [Or did industry and the AER tell them to change their estimate, because of the massive public backlash?]
The issue has emerged with the increase in fracking in recent years. The AER released a study on the potential links between low magnitude earthquakes and oilfield activity — including wastewater disposal and fracking — last February. Noting that early forms of fracking date to the 1950s in Alberta, it also acknowledges “hydraulic fracturing has been observed to induce subsurface seismic events since the 1960s.”
There’s a lot of trial and error in the oilfield as companies determine what exactly racking can achieve. [Emphasis added]
Study of aftershocks sheds more light on Fox Creek earthquake by David Howell, March 8, 2015, Edmonton Journal
University of Calgary researchers have determined they recorded four small aftershocks at the epicentre of a magnitude 4.4 earthquake near Fox Creek that is believed to have been triggered by hydraulic fracturing. The largest aftershock they measured was at a depth that would indicate the Jan. 22 earthquake was induced by human activity, U of C geophysicist David Eaton said Monday. Following the earthquake 33 kilometres west of Fox Creek, Eaton and two other researchers measured four aftershocks with estimated magnitudes ranging between 1.4 and 2.3 on the Richter scale. Such aftershocks are expected following a moderate earthquake, whether induced or naturally occurring, Eaton said Monday.
The largest of the four aftershocks occurred between 3.3 and 4.3 kilometres underground. “A completely natural event in this area, we might expect to be at a greater depth, say between five and 15 kilometres depth,” Eaton explained. “So that gives a good indication that this event was not a natural earthquake but is likely to have been induced.”
The Alberta Energy Regulator and the Alberta Geological Survey believe two earthquakes west of Fox Creek may be associated with multistage hydraulic fracturing. The quakes occurred Jan. 14 and Jan. 22.
The energy regulator has since put new [non] rules in place for companies conducting hydraulic fracturing in the area.
Eaton, a post-doctoral researcher and a PhD student drove to Fox Creek after the Jan. 22 earthquake and set up four seismographs. Eaton previously speculated that he and his research team had recorded up to 100 small aftershocks, but on Monday said most of them have since been ruled out. “We now realize that signals that might have been aftershocks in our very preliminary analysis were not aftershocks,” he said. The findings are still being studied and will be incorporated into a graduate student’s thesis research. The U of C is developing greater capability for the rapid deployment of aftershock monitoring campaigns, he said. The team would head to the epicentres of earthquakes with a magnitude of 4.0 or higher, he said.
“We need to know more about how to discriminate between natural and induced seismic events,” Eaton said. “There’s a lot that we can learn if we’re able to get there into the epicentral region very quickly after an event.” [Emphasis added]
Maintaining wellbore integrity by 2013 Spectraseis Inc.
Wellbore damage may be a common side effect of induced seismicity, leading to:
– Contamination of shallow aquifers
– Production loss along damaged wellbores
– Loss of reservoir isolation
INDUCED SEISMICITY IN NORTHEAST BRITISH COLUMBIA by Dan Walker, P. Geol., Senior Petroleum Geologist, British Columbia Oil & Gas Commission, 2013
“Where are we at today?
>1000 proven/possible induced events (mag 1 to 4.3)
6 events > magnitude 4.0, max event 4.3
20+ events reported ‘felt’
Deformed casing at Etsho (?)
Casing damage near Septimus (?)
Cement damage (??)
Seven events October 18 to 28th Magnitude 1.4 – 2.7 Six felt events”
DECC Consultation on Shale Gas-Induced Seismicity by the UK Geological Society, May 29, 2012
DECC have launched an invitation for comments on induced seismicity resulting from shale gas fracturing.
6. Some of our members (not only those from industry) have raised concerns with us about the 0.5M threshold recommended in the report for triggering the proposed traffic light system. This is not motivated by a wish to see exploration and production more lightly regulated. Rather, there is concern that the threshold may be perceived to be arbitrary, rather than based on a sound geophysical model and reasoning. We do not question the quality of the work done to support this element of the report, but there is insufficient detail presented to understand how the threshold of 0.5M was arrived at and is justified. Other geoscientists have suggested other thresholds. For instance, we understand that Richard Davies and Gillian Foulger (Durham University) are submitting a response to the report, in which they recommend 0.75M which they describe as a ‘more justifiable’ threshold. And Cuadrilla’s consultants, in the work assessed by the authors of the current report, recommended 1.7M. [The Alberta Energy Regulator led by Ex-Encana VP Gerard Protti set their red light at 4.0 for quake plagued Fox Creek] (As magnitude is measured using a logarithmic scale, the differences between these proposed thresholds are very significant.)
7. The models used to determine thresholds in each case appear to be quite different. In preparing this submission, we have not been able to get independent experts to review the various models and advise on their suitability (though we recommend that this be done, and would be pleased to advise on that process). But it is also clear that the objective of the threshold of 0.5M identified by the authors of the report is quite different to that in Cuadrilla’s earlier report. On page 12, they write that they ‘consider the threshold value of 1.7M suggested by the consultants is unnecessarily high’ and that a lower threshold would ‘reduce the likelihood of events perceptible to local residents’. A threshold set on the basis of minimising the chance of perceptible events will be considerably lower than one set on the basis of minimising the chance of damage to property, or to public safety. All of these bases correspond to perfectly sensible policy objectives – as the report points out, public acceptance of shale gas extraction is likely to be enhanced if there are no perceptible induced seismic events. But these are not judgments which can or should be made by independent expert scientists alone. For the avoidance of doubt, we are not endorsing one or other of the proposed thresholds referred to in paragraph 6. Rather, we advocate that the objective of the threshold be clearly established, that the scientific basis for its determination then be identified, and that this basis and its application then be subject to peer review. In the absence of such a process, it would be premature to set a threshold at this stage. [Emphasis added]
The Problem With Traffic Lights: Ex Post Facto Precaution by John Pearson, June 25, 2014, lancslaw.wordpress.com
Traffic lights systems are a commonly used approach to environmental risk management which allows economically beneficial extraction to continue whilst meeting the demands of the precautionary principle. A seminal principle of environmental law, the precautionary principle has been suggested as taking a number of forms. Richard Stewart suggested four forms which the majority of approaches seen throughout the world today could be categorised into, as indeed could the variety of definitions given to the principle in domestic, regional and international legal texts. These forms are:
Margin of safety
Best available technology
Traffic light systems suggest three (or more) levels of impact of increasing severity and appropriate responses expected of parties undertaking the action causing said impacts. By way of illustration, ‘green’ impacts are minimal or non-existent and allow action to continue unabated. ‘Amber’ impacts are more severe though likely to abate with reduced activity, and often the suggestion that monitoring should be increased to ensure this is the case is made. ‘Red’ impacts require immediate cession of activity until impacts dissipate entirely and/or the regulatory authority permits recommencement.
The post will attempt to show that the traffic light system fits within none of these proposed methods of achieving precaution, and as such in no way imbues precaution into the regulatory frameworks in which it is utilised. As with my earlier posts for this blog, and in line with my on going research I will use the extraction of tar sands in Alberta, Canada and hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking) as case studies on which to base my contentions.
In the UK the continued exploratory drilling at sites such as Barton Moss in Manchester and Balcombe in West Sussex is governed by a traffic light approach to management of so called induced seismicity. This is the seismic effects caused by the fracturing of shale and other rock formations to access the gas trapped within it, and can range from tremors caused immediately by the injection of fluid to increase pressure to earthquakes perceptible to humans caused by the fractures created at a later point. A traffic lights approach to the monitoring of such seismic events was suggested by the June 2012 report of the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society.
Under the system suggested only once a seismic event of 1.7 M (magnitude) occurs will activity have to be halted entirely (to add context the earthquake which caused the tsunami in the Indian Ocean in 2004 was 9M). Between 0 and 1.7M, the ‘amber’ category, monitoring is increased after injection of fluid into wells until events fall to below one per day. This in itself is a point of concern, as the frequency of events between 0 and 1.7M is irrelevant and can never breach the ‘red’ zone. Thus constant tremors of 1.7M would only necessitate further monitoring and no reduction in the intensity of activity.
In Alberta, Canada the traffic light system is utilised to regulate the extraction of water from natural water courses for utilisation in the extraction and refinement of tar sands. Here, under ‘green’ conditions firms can exract up to 15% of river flow by volume, ‘amber’ 10% of flow with a maximum level set in winter, and ‘red’ 5.2% of flow with a maximum level in winter and the mandatory requirement of storage of water extracted rather than continued extraction. A note should be made that in this case, regardless of the critique to follow, the system in Alberta under the Regional Aquatic Monitoring Program and Lower Athabasca River Water Management Framework is voluntary in nature.
A number of criticisms can be levelled at traffic light systems in specific contexts, the discussion here however will focus on general issues with the approach in relation to meeting the requisite level of precaution activities with particularly egregious potential impacts necessitates. Firstly traffic light systems operate on static conceptions of the risks involved. Increased monitoring of potential impacts than that already in operation is only required once the ‘amber’ level of impact has already been reached. Thus the scientific data on which precaution is based will not necessarily increase as activity continues. Regulation of activities with unknown impacts is therefore based on data which was acquired in periods of lesser or even no activity. Data as to the extent of impacts is thus only acquired once said impacts have begun to occur.
In the case of fracking the level of monitoring of seismic activity in the regions in which test drilling (at the time of writing no company is extracting natural gas by fracking for commercial sale in the UK) is unprecedented and as such the data used on which to base the traffic light system is of a fundamentally different scale to that now being acquired on a daily basis. Thus the data on which the coloured zones are being based is inherently less reliable than that now being acquired once activity has begun.
The second issue that traffic light systems do not address is the mitigation of impacts known to be potential consequences of activity. To take the examples of the tar sands and fracking, the systems imposed only require cession of activity until the impact has abated. Thus once river flow levels are replenished or seismic events cease, water extraction and fluid injection respectively can be resumed. Only in the event of continued or ceaseless impacts is action to mitigate damage caused required it would seem. Indeed in neither instance is such a stipulation made, though it can be reasonably presumed that this would be the requirement placed upon parties engaging in the actions causing adverse impacts by regulatory authorities should unrelenting impacts occur.
In relation to the aforementioned forms of precaution suggested by Stewart, traffic light monitoring is certainly not prohibitory, it in no way requires the halting of activity until no or acceptable impacts are assured. In fact it is quite the opposite, the system permits continued activity based upon a lack of knowledge regarding the impacts thereof. As has been discussed they do not require the utilisation of the best available technology or methods for monitoring, merely that it should occur once impacts have been recognised as having occurred.
In relation to the other two forms of precaution Stewart outlines, traffic light systems gain some credibility. They appear prima facie to permit activity based on uncertainty regarding a potential risk, and as such are representative of a non-preclusion approach to precaution. However traffic light systems do not require precaution within continued activity, a key aspect of the non-preclusion approach. The principle at the centre of non-preclusion is that beneficial activity should not be halted in the face of uncertainty. Instead they should imbue precaution in on going operations, which is certainly not the case in traffic light systems as has been shown.
Finally the margin of safety approach is that which is most closely linked to the traffic light system. Under this approach activities bearing risks of potential harm are to be permitted up to a level at which adverse impacts have not been proven to occur or are not predicted to so. Again prima facie this approach appear to be represented within traffic light systems. However, the level at which impacts will occur in the two examples given is unknown, thus to suggest that activity is permitted up to and not beyond said level is profoundly untrue.
In conclusion although being espoused as imbuing precaution in potentially harmful activities, the traffic light system of environmental regulation is only effective to the extent that accurate scientific data is available. New or ‘unconventional’ approaches to securing ever more scarce resources, of which the tar sands and fracking are two of the most high profile examples, are rarely able to be based upon accurate and established data. As such traffic light systems are fundamentally undermined as approaches to ensuring precaution in relation to them. To put it simply traffic light systems in such instances are regulatory, but are by no means precautious.
John Pearson is an Associate Lecturer at Lancaster University and Part-Time Lecturer and Bangor University in North Wales. He researches in human rights law and environmental law at international, regional and domestic levels. He has written on the use of human rights to protect environmental features of particular cultural significance and this is the focus of his doctoral thesis and research with a particular focus on the tar sands of Alberta, Canada and on regulatory reactions to the use of extreme sources of energy. [Emphasis added]
NINE Gov & Academic Studies Take Aim at Fracking in USA by Susanne Posel (OC), February 23, 2015 nsnbc international
The US Geological Survey (USGS), the University of Colorado (UC), the Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS) and the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory (LBNL) conducted a study on the sudden man-made earthquakes happening in Oklahoma, California, Pennsylvania and Ohio and found that hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is the causation.
Data from the Coordinating Council on Seismic Activity (CCSA) on oil and natural gas producers was given to the researchers to determine the correlation between earthquakes and fracking.
Michael Teaque, secretary of the Oklahoma Energy and Environment (OEE) commented: “I was surprised other states are having a hard time getting data from industry,” Teague said. “We’ve been working hard to share data and make sure proprietary data from producers doesn’t get passed around and it’s purely for the scientists to do analysis on stressed faults.”
The researchers wrote: “Large areas of the United States long considered geologically stable with little or no detected seismicity have recently become seismically active. This elevated activity includes larger earthquakes that have caused significant damage. To a large extent, the increasing rate of earthquakes in the mid-continent is due to fluid-injection activities used in modern energy production. We explore potential avenues for mitigating effects of induced seismicity.”
It was determined that the practice of fracking, including the use of “industrial wastewater” in injection wells for “carbon sequestration and storage” contaminates “underground reservoirs … [and] can cause earthquakes.”
William Ellsworth, senior scientist for the USGS, said: “A seismic network capable of precise locations of small earthquakes could reveal the presence of a large, possibly dangerous, fault being reactivated due to fluid injection. There are so many disposal wells that this contributes significantly to the total seismic hazard, at least in the mid-continent.”
The researchers point out that there is an invaluable “importance [to] seismic monitoring cannot be overstated. A seismic network capable of precise locations of small earthquakes could reveal the presence of a large, possibly dangerous, fault being reactivated due to fluid injection.”
Mark Peterson, seismologist for the USGS produced a hot-spot map for areas of the US at risk for earthquakes caused by fracking: • California • The Pacific Northwest • Intermountain West • New Madrid Seismic Zone in Charleston, South Carolina.
Shockingly, the entire North American continent has the potential to suffer from an earthquake; however 16 states have recently reported seismic activity near the 6 magnitude on the Richter scale.
Three years ago, fracking was tied to earthquakes in a study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that found the current method of carbon capture by storing the greenhouse gas underground used by fracking is directly causational to earthquakes.
Mark Zobacka and Steven Gorelick, professors in the departments of Geophysics and Environmental Earth System Science at Stanford University (SU), surmise that earthquakes “will be triggered by injection of large volumes of CO2” and calls “large-scale carbon capture and storage (CCS) a risky and likely unsuccessful strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
In 2014, Oklahoma cities such as Guthrie, Jones and Langston, there were earthquakes in magnitudes ranging from 2.6 to 4.3 with showing signs of slowing.
The USGS said back then: “The rate of earthquakes in Oklahoma has increased remarkably since October 2013 – by about 50 percent – significantly increasing the chance for a damaging magnitude 5.5 or greater quake in central Oklahoma.”
The seismic activity is curious to geologists because “Oklahoma is geologically part of the United States’ stable continental interior. As such, this region is not an area where we would expect regular seismic activity.”
This information came out after researchers from Cornell University (CU) studying Jones, Oklahoma, published a study showing that recent surges on earthquake activity are correlated directly with fracking.
The 40% higher incidents in earthquakes in Oklahoma since 2009 have been found to have origination with four injection wells that have been filled with chemical laden water used in the process of fracking.
Earthquakes were recorded to have occurred a mere 22 miles from those injection wells.
The town of Jones has experiences a shocking 2,500 earthquakes of 3.0 on the Richter scale since 2008 and this phenomenon can be traced to having been caused by the increase in wastewater from injection wells due to fracking.
It appears to geologists that injection wells concentrate so much chemical laced water into the earth’s crust that there is an obvious increase in subterranean pressure near these underground faults which is causing the recent rise in earthquakes.
Geologists in Youngstown, Ohio discovered in 2014 a probable causation between SME experienced in the region and fracking conducted in the region. In this city alone, over 100 earthquakes rocked the town in areas that had 177 active injection wells.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) stated: “[We] believe the sand and water injected into the well during the hydraulic fracturing process may have increased pressure on an unknown microfault in the area.”
Pennsylvania has become a fracking hot-spot and the focus is on the Marcellus shale area being the center of SMEs.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) released a study involving the Yale University School of Medicine (YSM) and the University of Washington (UW) that states residents who live within a short proximity to natural gas wells report more health problems.
A survey was given to 492 random residents in Pennsylvania and found that “people with ground-fed water wells living near hydraulic fracturing sites are twice as likely to report skin and respiratory problems.”
Complaints of residents included: • Unexplained hair loss • Persistent rashes • Sore throats • Nose bleeds.
Those chosen for the study reported “dermal, respiratory, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and neurological symptoms” from ground fed water supplies. [Emphasis added]