A hydraulic fracturing operation near Fox Creek was shut down last month after a magnitude 4.8 earthquake hit the area, according to the Alberta Energy Regulator. The regulator ordered the shutdown of the Repsol Oil & Gas site located 35 kilometers north of Fox Creek. Carrie Rosa, spokeswoman for the regulator, said that the company is working with the regulator in order to make sure all environmental rules are followed and that “the company has ceased operations … and they will not be allowed to resume operations until we have approved their plans.”
In Canada, the energy regulator automatically shuts down fracking sites when a 4.0-magnitude or higher earthquake hits an area where fracking fracking is happening.
— Calgary Buzz (@CgyBuzz) January 18, 2016
Camille Brillon, a seismologist with Natural Resources Canada said that the earthquake was “quite large for the area, larger than normal.”
Jeffrey Gu, associate professor of geophysics at the University of Alberta, reported that the area surrounding the fracking operation near Fox Creek had been experiencing a proliferation of earthquakes and estimated that there were hundreds of quakes in the six months preceding the quake in question, but added that the area is not a very risky area for fracking or quakes given its low population and lack of major fault lines.
“It’s a relatively safe area without major, major faults.”
— 630CHED (@630CHED) January 15, 2016
Fox Creek’s low-risk scenario differs from earthquake risks around the continent, such as in California.
“Based on our empirical results, injection-induced earthquakes are expected to contribute marginally to the overall seismicity in California,” researchers from the California Institute of Technology, University of California, University of Southern California and two French universities, explained, but added, “However, considering the numerous active faults in California, the seismogenic consequences of even a few induced cases can be devastating.”
Earlier this month SF Gate reported that researchers tied a “September 2005 swarm of moderate earthquakes” in Kern County to three fracking-related wastewater disposal wells in the area that had opened between 2001 and 2005. The researchers reportedly found that rapidly increasing the amount of wastewater put into the ground near the White Wolf fault triggered the quakes.
Gu said that it was highly probable that the earthquakes near the Fox Creek fracking operation area had been caused by the operation. Meanwhile, the British Columbia Oil and Gas Commission declared that another quake, which had a magnitude of 4.4 that happened in 2014, had been caused by hydraulic fracturing operations, or more specifically had been “triggered by fluid injection during hydraulic fracturing.” Scientists in Canada also confirmed that B.C. experienced a 4.6-magnitude fracking-related earthquake last year, which had been the largest earthquake that was confirmed to have been triggered by a fracking operation in Canada, according to Portside.
The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) said that, in the last year alone, there were 363 quakes near Fox Creek and that seismic activity now varies from day to day. September 11, 2015 hit a record high when 18 earthquakes were recorded. The 4.8-magnitude earthquake in question was recorded 30 kilometers west of Fox Creek, after Repsol had been injecting liquids at high pressure into subterranean rocks so as to create fissures and extract oil and gas. Repsol did confirm that it had been fracking “at the time of the event,” according to Phys.org.
Fox Creek mayor raises alarm about oilfield fracking after earthquake, water shortage. CP’s Bob Weber via https://t.co/2bL7YoKt36
— David Paddon (@DavidPaddon) January 14, 2016
Last June, Gu told CBC News that earlier earthquakes in Fox Creek were almost certainly, with a 99-percent probability, caused by the fracking operation.
“We have to take time to analyze the records,” Gu said, “But from earlier events in the same area… we found a strong correlation between the timing of these events, early events from late 2003, with three injection wells west of the town of Fox Creek.”
— The Frack Police (@Fracktastical) January 17, 2016
Regulators in Alberta and the mayor of Fox Creek are also reportedly concerned about potential effects of fracking on groundwater supplies. After all, in 2014, the California State Water Resources Board confirmed that billions of gallons of wastewater that had been mixed with fracking chemicals and other pollutants were injected directly into some of California’s underground water aquifers. The aquifers had previously been considered clean enough for human drinking water, according to NBC and the SF Gate.
— Hydraulic Fracturing (@HydraulicFRRact) February 13, 2016
Reuters reported in January that the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said last year that “the actual fracking process is only occasionally the direct cause of felt earthquakes.” Wastewater is the result of both oil and gas extraction according to the USGS, which maintains the following position on earthquakes and fracking.
“Fracking is NOT causing most of the induced earthquakes. Wastewater disposal is the primary cause of the recent increase in earthquakes in the central United States.
“Wastewater disposal wells typically operate for longer durations and inject much more fluid than hydraulic fracturing, making them more likely to induce earthquakes.”
At the end of January, Alberta Energy Regulators presented their “Introduction to the Induced Seismicity Studyin the Fox Creek Area” to the town council.
[Image via Fox Creek | Facebook]