Cover Image


View/Hide Left Panel

are universally believed to have been caused by human activities, as well as seismic events for which the evidence for causality is credible but less solid.

Research conducted on some of these incidents has led to better understanding of the probable physical mechanisms of inducing seismic events and allowed for the identification of criteria that could be used to predict whether future induced seismic events might occur. The most important criteria include the amplitude and direction of the state of stress in the Earth’s crust in the vicinity of the fluid injection or withdrawal area; the presence, orientation, and physical properties of nearby faults; pore fluid pressure (pressure of fluids in the pores of the rocks at depth, hereafter simply called pore pressure); pore pressure change; the rates and volumes of fluid being injected or withdrawn; and the rock properties in the subsurface.

Seismicity induced by human activity related to energy technologies is caused by change in pore pressure and/or change in stress taking place in the presence of (1) faults with specific properties and orientations and (2) a critical state of stress in the rocks. In general, existing faults and fractures are stable (or are not sliding) under the natural horizontal and vertical stresses acting on subsurface rocks. However, the crustal stress in any given area is perpetually in a state in which any stress change, for example, through a change in subsurface pore pressure due to injecting or extracting fluid from a well, may change the stress acting on a nearby fault. This change in stress may result in slip or movement along that fault, creating a seismic event. Abrupt or nearly instantaneous slip along a fault releases energy in the form of energy waves (“seismic waves”) that travel through the Earth and can be recorded and used to infer characteristics of energy release on the fault. Magnitude “M” measures the total amount of energy released at the seismic event source, whereas “intensity” of a seismic event is a measure of the level of ground shaking at any location. Both the magnitude and the maximum intensity of a seismic event are directly related to the total area of the fault that undergoes movement: a larger area of slip along the fault results in a larger seismic event.

Although the general mechanisms that create induced seismic events are well understood, current computer modeling techniques cannot fully address the complexities of natural rock systems in large part because the models generally lack information on local crustal stress, rock properties, fault locations and properties, and the shape and size of the reservoir into which fluids are injected or withdrawn. When adequate knowledge of this information is available, the possibility exists to make accurate predictions of earthquake occurrences. Without this detailed information, hazard and risk assessments have to be based on statistical analysis of data from analogous regions. The ability to predict induced seismicity at a particular energy development site will continue to rely on both theoretical modeling and available data including field measurements, and on statistical methods.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement