Canadian Collaboration in the study of Induced Seismicity Processes and Hazards from Induced Seismicity

Induced seismicity is a pressing and timely problem in western Canada, given the rapid deployment of new resource extraction technologies and the growing realization of the potential to trigger unplanned seismic events. There is a history of moderate triggered seismicity in Alberta and B.C. from a variety of mechanisms involved in conventional resource production, waste-water disposal, and hydraulic fracturing. There is a significant (though very small) possibility that triggered events could be large enough to cause significant damage.

The basic mechanism of induced seismicity is widely agreed-upon: it is caused by a change in pore fluid pressure and/or a change in the state of stress, which may cause re-activation of existing faults or fractures. However, currently we cannot predict the likelihood or magnitude of such events from specific planned operations because we do not have enough data on the complex natural rock systems, nor do we have validated predictive models. Without a quantitative model with which to evaluate the likelihood of induced seismicity, it is difficult to assess its significance and plan appropriate mitigation strategies to counter the risk.

A new research program has been initiated at Western University led by Dr. Gail Atkinson, NSERC/TransAlta/Nanometrics Industrial Research Chair (IRC) in Hazards from Induced Seismicity, that is focused on understanding the mechanisms and associated hazards associated with industry-related induced seismicity. Funded by NSERC and two industrial partners, Transalta and Nanometrics Corporations, University and government partners include the University of Calgary, the Alberta Geological Survey (AGS) and the Pacific Geoscience Centre (PGC) of the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC). Other collaborating partners include the University of Alberta and McGill University, as listed in Project Researchers. The proposed research program includes the expansion of the seismic network in Alberta (see Seismographic Network), in conjunction with specific research projects in the following areas: understanding the nature of induced seismicity; assessment of the likelihood of events/ground motions from induced seismicity; the relationship between energy production parameters (e.g. fluid injection and extraction rates) and induced seismicity in different geologic settings; hazards to critical infrastructure due to induced seismicity; and protocols to mitigate the consequences of induced seismicity (i.e. real-time response and traffic light systems). These research projects are undertaken by an IRC program in Hazards from Induced Seismicity and a CRD (Collaborative Research and Development) program in Induced Seismicity Processes. Taken together, they will provide an in-depth understanding of the likelihood of induced seismicity and associated risk potential that currently does not exist. Most importantly, the results will provide a knowledge-based foundation for the development of practical models to evaluate and mitigate the risk to critical infrastructure posed by energy extraction technologies. The insights and advances made here are important to ensure the safety of the public and infrastructure while supporting the continued successful and safe production of hydrocarbon resources in western Canada.