Why is oil and gas activity causing earthquakes? And can we reduce the risk?

The Conversation

Originally Posted: May 11, 2015

If you’ve been following the news lately, chances are you’ve heard
image-20150507-1212-1qgtj56about – or even felt – earthquakes in the central United States. During the past five years, there has been an unprecedented increase in earthquakes in the North American mid-continent, a region previously considered one of the most stable on Earth.

According to a recent report by the Oklahoma Geological Survey, Oklahoma alone has seen seismicity rates increase 600 times compared to historic levels.

The state has gone from experiencing fewer than two magnitude-three earthquakes per year to greater than two per day, the report found. Similarly, my home state of Texas has experienced a near 10-fold increase in magnitude-three earthquakes or greater in the past five years.

The recent uptick in earthquakes in Texas, Oklahoma and several other central US states raises an obvious question: What is causing all of this seismicity? READ MORE

James Brooks receives 2015 AAPG Presidential Award for Exemplary Service

JEBrooks-219x300

James Brooks, provost emeritus and professor emeritus in SMU’s Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, has received the 2015 AAPG Presidential Award for Exemplary Service, one of the highest honors of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG).

AAPG President Randi Martinsen bestowed the honor upon Brooks “for a lifetime of inspired and dedicated service to his profession and community, and for the education of hundreds of students for whom he has served as an outstanding teacher, wise mentor and genuine friend.”

AAPG is the premier organization for U.S. petroleum geologists. It is one of the world’s largest professional geological societies with more than 36,000 members. READ MORE

Heather DeShon and Matthew Hornbach, seismology research links fluid injections/removal to earthquakes

Oil and Gas Daily

Originally Posted: April 30, 2015

Combination of gas field fluid injection and removal cause of earthquakes

Several natural and man-made factors can influence the subsurface stress regime resulting in earthquakes. Natural ones include intraplate stress changes related to plate tectonics and natural water table or lake level variations caused by changing weather patterns or water drainage patterns over time, or advance or retreat of glaciers. Man-made include human-generated changes to the water table, including dam construction, and industrial activities involving the injection or removal of fluids from the subsurface.
A seismology team led by Southern Methodist University (SMU), Dallas, finds that high volumes of wastewater injection combined with saltwater (brine) extraction from natural gas wells is the most likely cause of earthquakes occurring near Azle, Texas, from late 2013 through spring 2014.

In an area where the seismology team identified two intersecting faults, they developed a sophisticated 3D model to assess the changing fluid pressure within a rock formation in the affected area. They used the model to estimate stress changes induced in the area by two wastewater injection wells and the more than 70 production wells that remove both natural gas and significant volumes of salty water known as brine.

Conclusions from the modeling study integrate a broad-range of estimates for uncertain subsurface conditions. Ultimately, better information on fluid volumes, flow parameters, and subsurface pressures in the region will provide more accurate estimates of the fluid pressure along this fault.

“The model shows that a pressure differential develops along one of the faults as a combined result of high fluid injection rates to the west and high water removal rates to the east,” said Matthew Hornbach, SMU associate professor of geophysics. “When we ran the model over a 10-year period through a wide range of parameters, it predicted pressure changes significant enough to trigger earthquakes on faults that are already stressed.” READ MORE

State lawmakers quiz scientists on earthquake study

Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Originally Posted: May 4, 2015

By Max Baker

On a day that small earthquakes continued to shake North Texas, Southern Methodist University researchers testified before a House committee on Monday about their study linking a swarm of previous temblors near Azle and Reno to oil and gas operations.

While no one linked earthquakes recorded near Irving and Dallas in recent days to drilling, lawmakers at the state Capitol were definitely interested in getting a better understanding of what is making the ground shake with more regularity in the Metroplex. . .

SMU professors Brian Stump and Matthew Hornbach testified before the committee, along with Jon Olson from the University of Texas at Austin, about the study published late last month in the scientific journal Nature Communications regarding 27 earthquakes that occurred northwest of Fort Worth from November 2013 to January 2014.

After analyzing 3D modeling and reviewing historical data on earthquake activity in the area, the researchers concluded that the tremors were not caused by natural phenomenon, such as drought conditions or a natural shift of the Earth’s plates, but by oil and gas activity. READ MORE

 

Using Geothermal Solutions to Desalinate Oil Field Water

RenewableEnergyWorld.com
Originally Posted: April 22, 2015

By: Cathy Chickering Pace, SMU Geothermal Lab

Cathy Chickering Pace Cathy Chickering Pace is a Project Specialist in the SMU Geothermal Laboratory in Dallas, Texas, where she primarily focuses on project management of the Lab's sponsored research from both government and private industry.
Cathy Chickering Pace
Cathy Chickering Pace is a Project Specialist in the SMU Geothermal Laboratory in Dallas, Texas, where she primarily focuses on project management of the Lab’s sponsored research from both government and private industry.

Clean water — it’s a precious resource in hot demand right now, for more than taking a shower or watering our crops. The United Nations projects the world’s population will grow by another billion people, to 8.4 Billion, by 2030. More people means more need for food, water, electricity, and other necessities. Beyond the obvious demands for water, our increasing appetite for electricity also requires water — and plenty of it. Most of the electricity generated in the U.S. uses water in some capacity.

When the Sierra Nevada snowpack is at 65 year low, there will be serious water shortages in California that can affect us all. Droughts can be powerful motivators for innovative water efficiency and conservation measures, and have led to the development of innovative technologies, such as desalination of brackish ground water, produced oil field water, or seawater. Certainly these technologies hold tremendous promise, particularly in places where high salinity waters outweigh the freshwater supply significantly — places like Texas, where brackish water is produced from oil and gas wells.

Texas also happens to be a large agricultural user of fresh water, especially in the southernmost part of the state, in the Rio Grande Valley where cotton, ‘Ruby Red Grapefruits’, ‘Texas 1015 onions’, grain sorghum, melons, sugar cane, and other crops are plentiful — but not without the help of irrigation systems. In fact, according to the US Geological Survey (USGS), irrigation accounts for the largest use of fresh water throughout the U.S. Because the Valley is experiencing rapid population growth, the demands for water will only increase. The International Boundary & Water Commission projects the area’s municipal water needs to increase by a whopping 100 percent in the next 50 years and industrial use to increase by 40 percent. The current source for nearly all of the Valley’s water? The Rio Grande River: subject to extreme weather fluctuations, beginning to experience higher salinity conditions, and an international boundary. READ MORE

Emergency officials study Dallas-Fort Worth area’s growing quake risk

Dallas Morning News

April 24, 2015

The U.S. Geological Survey reported Thursday that North Texas’ risk of damaging earthquakes has more than tripled since 2008, the year the region first began experiencing more frequent ground-shaking.

The Dallas-Fort Worth area’s earthquake risk is now on par with parts of Oklahoma and California, Mark Petersen, chief of the agency’s National Seismic Hazard Project in Golden, Colo., said in an interview.

Dallas’ Office of Emergency Management said it would continue to strengthen the city’s preparedness for earthquakes. READ MORE

Matthew Hornbach and Heather DeShon, both associate professors of geophysics featured in KERA article on earthquake findings

Associated Press and KERA News
Originally Posted: April 21, 2015

SMU Study Links Azle Earthquake Swarm To Natural Gas Drilling

What’s causing the Azle earthquakes? SMU researchers say that wastewater injection and saltwater extraction from natural gas wells is the most likely cause.

A study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications says researchers from Southern Methodist University and the U.S. Geological Survey monitored the shaking from nearly 30 small quakes west of Fort Worth from November 2013 to January 2014. The area hadn’t had any recorded quakes in 150 years.

The scientists say the shaking decreased when the volume of injections did. They have concluded that removing saltwater from the wells and injecting that wastewater back underground is “the most likely cause” for the swarm of quakes.

Other studies have made a connection between wastewater injections and a spike in earthquakes in Oklahoma and southern Kansas.

The state’s official seismologist has no plans for immediate action following the report. Craig Pearson said at a news conference Tuesday that he wouldn’t recommend that the Railroad Commission, the state’s oil and gas regulator, suspend activity at two wells the report’s authors identify as the source of the temblors in Azle. READ MORE

 

SMU-led seismology team reveals Azle findings

Combination of gas field fluid injection and removal is most likely cause of 2013-14 earthquakes

azle-earthquake-report-graphic-01

An SMU-led seismology team finds that high volumes of wastewater injection combined with saltwater (brine) extraction from natural gas wells is the most likely cause of earthquakes occurring near Azle, Texas, from late 2013 through spring 2014.

In an area where the seismology team identified two intersecting faults, they developed a sophisticated 3D model to assess the changing fluid pressure within a rock formation in the affected area. They used the model to estimate stress changes induced in the area by two wastewater injection wells and the more than 70 production wells that remove both natural gas and significant volumes of salty water known as brine.

Conclusions from the modeling study integrate a broad-range of estimates for uncertain subsurface conditions. Ultimately, better information on fluid volumes, flow parameters, and subsurface pressures in the region will provide more accurate estimates of the fluid pressure along this fault.

“The model shows that a pressure differential develops along one of the faults as a combined result of high fluid injection rates to the west and high water removal rates to the east,” said Matthew Hornbach, SMU associate professor of geophysics. “When we ran the model over a 10-year period through a wide range of parameters, it predicted pressure changes significant enough to trigger earthquakes on faults that are already stressed.” Model-predicted stress changes on the fault were typically tens to thousands of times larger than stress changes associated with water level fluctuations caused by the recent Texas drought. READ MORE

Louis Jacobs, Earth Sciences, why land animals moved to the seas

Smithsonian Magazine
Originally Posted: April 16, 2015

Take a Deep Dive Into The Reasons Land Animals Moved to the Seas

Synthesizing decades of discoveries, scientists have revealed links between changing environments and animal movements

The movement of animals from the land into the sea has happened several times over the last 250 million years, and it has been documented in many different and singular ways. But now, for the first time, a team of researchers has created an overview that not only provides insight into evolution, but may also help more accurately assess humans’ impact on the planet.

Behind-the-Scenes With Curator Nick Pyenson: A New Fossil Whale
The oceans are teeming with tetrapods—“four-legged” birds, reptiles, mammals and amphibians—that have repeatedly transitioned from the land to the sea, adapting their legs into fins. The transitions have often been correlated with mass extinctions, but the true reasons are only partly known based on fossils and through study of Earth’s climate, for instance.

Those transitions are considered to be “canonical illustrations” of the evolutionary process and thus ideal for study; living marine tetrapods—such as whales, seals, otters and sea lions—also have a big ecological impact, according to Neil P. Kelley and Nicholas D. Pyenson, the two Smithsonian scientists who compiled the new look at these tetrapods, appearing this week in the journal Science. READ MORE

 

Brian Stump, Earth Sciences, key speaker at the 18th Honors Convocation

Outstanding achievement honored at SMU’s 2014-15 Awards Extravaganza, Honors Convocation.

Dedman College faculty, staff and students were recognized with teaching awards, service honors and the University’s highest commendation, the “M” Award, at the 2015 Awards Extravaganza Monday, April 13.

> Read the list of award winners from Honors Convocation 2015

On the same day, the University honored its best students at the 18th Honors Convocation. The address was delivered by Brian Stump, Claude C. Albritton Jr. Chair in Geological Sciences in the Huffington Department of Earth Sciences.

An expert in seismic wave propagation and earthquake source theory, Stump has become well known in North Texas for his continuing research on the increasing occurrences of small earthquakes that have shaken the area since 2008. In November 2014, he was named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for distinguished contributions to his field, particularly in the area of seismic monitoring in support of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. READ MORE

Congratulations to Dedman College faculty, staff and students who were recognized at the 2015 Awards Extravaganza on Monday, April 13.

Receiving the “M” Award, SMU’s most prestigious honor. Recipients include:

• Jill DeTemple, associate professor of religious studies
• Elizabeth Wheaton, senior lecturer in economics

The Willis M. Tate Award honors an outstanding faculty member who has been involved in student life. Recipients include:

• Jodi Cooley, associate professor of physics
• Stephen Sekula, assistant professor of physics
• Willard Spiegelman, Dwaine E. Hughes Jr. Distinguished Chair in English
• Brian Zoltowski, assistant professor of chemistry

Receiving the Extra Mile Awards, presented by Students for New Learning for graciousness and sensitivity to students with learning differences:

• Ian Harris, associate professor of statistical science

Read the full list of award winners.