are currently unable to accurately predict the magnitude or occurrence of such events due to the lack of comprehensive data on complex natural rock systems and the lack of validated predictive models.
Energy technology projects that are designed to maintain a balance between the amount of fluid being injected and withdrawn, such as most oil and gas development projects, appear to produce fewer seismic events than projects that do not maintain fluid balance. Hydraulic fracturing in a well for shale gas development, which involves injection of fluids to fracture the shale and release the gas up the well, has been confirmed as the cause for small felt seismic events at one location in the world.
Wastewater disposal from oil and gas production, including shale gas recovery, typically involves injection at relatively low pressures into large porous aquifers that are specifically targeted to accommodate large volumes of fluid. The majority of wastewater disposal wells do not pose a hazard for induced seismicity, though there have been induced seismic events with a very limited number of wells. The long-term effects of a significant increase in the number of wastewater disposal wells for induced seismicity are unknown.
Projects that inject or extract large net volumes of fluids over long periods of time such as CCS may have potential for larger induced seismic events, though insufficient information exists to understand this potential because no large-scale CCS projects are yet in operation. Continued research is needed on the potential for induced seismicity in large-scale CCS projects.
Induced seismicity in geothermal projects appears to be related to both net fluid balance considerations and temperature changes produced in the subsurface. Different forms of geothermal resource development appear to have differing potential for producing felt seismic events. High-pressure hydraulic fracturing undertaken in some geothermal projects has caused seismic events that are large enough to be felt. Temperature changes associated with geothermal development of hydrothermal resources have also induced felt seismicity.
Governmental response to induced seismic events has been undertaken by a number of federal and state agencies in a variety of ways. However, with the potential for increased numbers of induced seismic events due to expanding energy development, government agencies and research institutions may not have sufficient resources to address unexpected events. Forward-looking interagency cooperation to address potential induced seismicity is warranted.
Methodologies can be developed for quantitative, probabilistic hazard assessments of induced seismicity risk. Such assessments should be undertaken before operations begin in areas with a known history of felt seismicity and updated in response to observed, potentially induced seismicity. Practices that consider induced seismicity both before and during the actual operation of an energy project can be employed in the development of a “best practices” protocol specific to each energy technology and site location.