Study links West Texas earthquakes to oil and gas activity

AUSTIN, Texas – Earthquakes have been on the rise in the Delaware Basin, an oil-producing region in West Texas and New Mexico, since 2009. A study led by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin shows that these earthquakes are largely due to oil and gas production.

Looking back at earthquakes between 2017 and 2020, researchers studied the seismic activity of earthquakes alongside oil and gas production in the area. They found that 68% of the earthquakes with a magnitude greater than 1.5 were associated with hydraulic fracturing or disposal of produced water formation into geologic formations. Formation water is produced with oil and gas, and is released by companies into geologic formations separate from oil and gas reservoirs.

According to Alexandros Savvaidis, the study’s co-author and researcher at the UT Bureau of Economic Geology, these production activities increase subsurface pore pressure, which is a manner in which earthquakes are generated.

“This paper shows that we now know a lot about how oil and gas activities and seismic activity are connected,” Savvaidis said. “The modeling techniques could help oil and gas producers and regulators identify potential risks and adjust production and disposal activity to decrease them.”

The study looks at 5,000 earthquakes above a 1.5 magnitude. It found that 43% of the earthquakes were linked with injection into shallow sedimentary formations, while 12% of the earthquakes were linked with injections into deep sedimentary formations. Thirteen percent of the earthquakes were linked to hydraulic fracturing, a process that uses highly pressurized fluids to create fractures in the rock to increase the flow of oil and gas.

“We believe the framework presented in this study is applicable to other regions around the world that might be experiencing seismicity linked to subsurface fluid injection operations,” said the study’s lead author, Iason Grigoratos, who is now a postdoctoral researcher at ETH Zurich.

This study was funded by the State of Texas through the TexNet Program.

“Although there is still much to learn and more work to be done, especially when it comes to mitigating and forecasting, our knowledge of the linkage between water disposal, hydraulic fracturing and earthquakes continues to improve,” said Scott Tinker, a governor-appointed. member of the TexNet Advisory Committee. “This knowledge helps academics, regulators and industry work together to mitigate and minimize risk. It is the type of coordination needed when it comes to many types of industrial operations. I am pleased to see Texas leading. ”

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