Wastewater injection after oil and gas production can cause an earthquake? Yes, if the findings of study done by a group of geoscientists are any indication.
University of Oklahoma Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy assistant professor Xiaowei Chen and a group of geoscientists from Arizona State University and the University of California, Berkeley, have formulated a model to forecast induced earthquake activity from the disposal of wastewater after oil and gas production.
In many parts of the world, dumping large amount of wastewater after oil production is a big task. This wastewater contains salt, minerals and trace amounts of oil, making it unusable for consumption or agricultural purposes and cost-prohibitive to treat. It is disposed of by injecting it back into the earth, deep into porous rock formations.
Wastewater injection can cause earthquakes, explained Chen, and while most of the recent earthquakes in Oklahoma have been small, several have been in excess of 3.0 on the Richter scale.
Chen hopes that by following the results of the models she helped create, oil operators in the state can create new protocols for how much wastewater to inject and where.This could help prevent large induced earthquakes.
Chen does not believe forthcoming protocols will end induced seismicity altogether, but rather will help cap earthquake size and rate with restricted injection control. This method can forecast future induced seismicity.