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Durham University

Department of Earth Sciences


Publication details for Prof Gillian Foulger

Davies, R., Foulger, G., Bindley, A. & Styles, P. (2013). Induced Seismicity and Hydraulic Fracturing for the Recovery of Hydrocarbons. Marine and Petroleum Geology 45: 171-185.

Author(s) from Durham


We compile published examples of induced earthquakes that have occurred since 1929 that
have magnitudes equal to or greater than 1.0. Of the 198 possible examples, magnitudes range
up to 7.9. The potential causes and magnitudes are (a) mining (M 1.6 – 5.6); (b) oil and gas
field depletion (M 1.0 – 7.3); (c) water injection for secondary oil recovery (M 1.9 – 5.1); (d)
reservoir impoundment (M 2.0 – 7.9); (e) waste disposal (M 2.0 – 5.3); (f) academic research
boreholes investigating induced seismicity and stress (M 2.8 – 3.1); (g) solution mining (M
1.0 – 5.2); (h) geothermal operations (M 1.0 – 4.6) and (i) hydraulic fracturing for recovery of
gas and oil from low-permeability sedimentary rocks (M 1.0 – 3.8).
Reactivation of faults and resultant seismicity occurs due to a reduction in effective stress on
fault planes. Hydraulic fracturing operations can trigger seismicity because it can cause an
increase in the fluid pressure in a fault zone. Based upon the research compiled here we
propose that this could occur by three mechanisms. Firstly, fracturing fluid or displaced pore
fluid could enter the fault. Secondly, there may be direct connection with the hydraulic
fractures and a fluid pressure pulse could be transmitted to the fault. Lastly, due to poroelastic
properties of rock, deformation or ‗inflation‘ due to hydraulic fracturing could increase fluid
pressure in the fault or in fractures connected to the fault. The following pathways for fluid or
a fluid pressure pulse are proposed: (a) directly from the wellbore; (b) through new,
stimulated hydraulic fractures; (c) through pre-existing fractures and minor faults; or (d)
through the pore network of permeable beds or along bedding planes. The reactivated fault
could be intersected by the wellbore or it could be 10s to 100s of metres from it.
We propose these mechanisms have been responsible for the three known examples of felt
seismicity that are probably induced by hydraulic fracturing. These are in the USA, Canada
and the UK. The largest such earthquake was M 3.8 and was in the Horn River Basin,
Canada. To date, hydraulic fracturing has been a relatively benign mechanism compared to
other anthropogenic triggers, probably because of the low volumes of fluid and short
pumping times used in hydraulic fracturing operations. These data and analysis should help
provide useful context and inform the current debate surrounding hydraulic fracturing