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Energy
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Environment

Oil and Gas Commission Confirms Fracking Caused Earthquakes Felt by Hundreds

Fort St. John tremors measured magnitude 3, 4 and 4.5, rattling residents.

By Andrew Nikiforuk 31 Dec 2018 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew Nikiforuk is an award-winning journalist who has been writing about the energy industry for two decades and is a contributing editor to The Tyee. Find his previous stories here.

Four days before Christmas, British Columbia’s energy regulator confirmed that Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. caused three felt earthquakes while conducting hydraulic fracturing operations south of Fort St. John last month.

In an industry bulletin, the regulator also revealed that CNRL well operators expected that “induced seismicity was likely to occur, but events larger than magnitude 3 were not expected.”

Instead the company triggered events measuring magnitude 3.0, 4.0 and 4.5 on Nov. 29 that rattled homes and were felt by hundreds of citizens, as well as construction workers at the Site C dam site.

“All hydraulic fracture operations within the lower Montney formation will remain suspended” at the CNRL well pad “pending the results of a detailed technical review,” said the bulletin.

Gail Atkinson, one of Canada’s top seismic hazard experts, told The Tyee that if the magnitude 4.5 earthquake had occurred in a densely populated area it would have caused property damage.

In 2017 fracking operations in Sichuan, China, did just that by triggering a similar sized tremor.

Industry operations induced a magnitude 4.7 earthquake that damaged or destroyed nearly 600 homes.

According to a 2017 study published in the science journal Nature, China’s fracking industry has triggered four magnitude 4.0 quakes or greater in addition to 2,400 smaller scale tremors in the Sichuan Basin, the country’s richest natural gas deposit.

B.C.’s fracking industry has chalked up a similar record of seismic activity in the Montney basin, a major shale gas resource stretching across B.C. and Alberta.

Since 2014, B.C.’s fracking industry has triggered thousands of quakes, including 43 greater than a magnitude of 3.0 and three greater than magnitude of 4.0, according to an Oil and Gas Commission presentation at a Banff scientific conference last October.

Hydraulic fracturing and wastewater disposal in the Montney basin, which will supply B.C.’s proposed liquefied natural industry, caused the majority of the events.

Due to low methane prices, the industry currently extracts natural gas liquids or condensate from the shale formation. The liquids are used to dilute heavy bitumen for transportation through pipelines.

The industry has so thoroughly changed earthquake patterns in the region that B.C.’s seismic reporting forms now have two kinds of quakes for industry to check: accidental and intentional.

The disruptive technology of hydraulic fracturing and the underground injection of the wastewater it produces have reactivated faults and triggered earthquakes almost everywhere it has been used, including China, England, Ohio, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Kansas.

Industry-made quakes behave like natural quakes and pose a hazard to public safety, infrastructure and groundwater. They can also cause gases in the earth such as radon, carbon dioxide and methane to migrate.

In Oklahoma, citizens have sued firms operating deep wastewater well injection sites that have triggered hundreds of earthquakes and damaged 170 homes.

New research also shows that hydraulic fracturing has directly caused more than 700 earthquakes ranging in magnitude from 2 to 3.5 in the petro-state of Oklahoma between 2010 and 2016.

As a result industry there must shut down operations as soon as they have set off a magnitude 2.0.

Meanwhile in B.C. the threshold is 3.0 in one small area, and 4.0 elsewhere.

In neighbouring Kansas the oil and gas industry has caused so many quakes with high-volume deep saltwater disposal wells that lawmakers are now debating whether and how to hold oil and gas companies accountable for property damage.

The annual saltwater disposal volume being pumped into the ground in just one Kansas county jumped from 10 million barrels to more than 100 million barrels in recent years.

Earlier this year researchers revealed that that large volumes of deep wastewater injection have triggered unprecedented earthquake activity as far away as 90 kilometres from injection sites.

“Because highly detailed fault maps do not exist for south central Kansas and hydraulic properties can vary widely, predicting fluid flow and migration rates away from an injection site is difficult, at best,” concluded one study.

In B.C., CNRL has triggered other earthquake swarms in the Montney shale basin.

Two years ago the Oil and Gas Commission ordered the company to change its procedures and improve seismic monitoring at a saltwater disposal and storage well south of Fort St. John after it caused a swarm of tremors, including a widely felt magnitude 3.9 earthquake.

Dear readers: Comments are closed over the holiday break until we return in 2019. Thanks for all the thoughtful comments this year!  [Tyee]

Read more: Energy, Environment

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