The 2014 Greeley, Colorado Earthquakes: Science, Industry, Regulation, and Media

Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 3:20 PM
Anne F Sheehan, William L Yeck, Matthew Weingarten, Jenny Nakai and Shemin Ge, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, United States
On June 1, 2014 (UTC) a magnitude 3.2 earthquake occurred east of the town of Greeley, Colorado. The earthquake was widely felt, with reports from Boulder and Golden, over 60 miles away from the epicenter. The location of the earthquake in a region long considered aseismic but now the locus of active oil and gas production prompted the question of whether this was a natural or induced earthquake. Several classic induced seismicity cases hail from Colorado, including the Rocky Mountain Arsenal earthquakes in the 1960s and the Paradox Valley earthquakes in western Colorado. In both cases the earthquakes were linked to wastewater injection. The Greeley earthquake epicenter was close to a Class II well that had been injecting waste fluid into the deepest sedimentary formation of the Denver Basin at rates as high as 350,000 barrels/month for less than a year. The closest seismometers to the June 1 event were more than 100 km away, necessitating deployment of a local seismic network for detailed study. IRIS provided six seismometers to the University of Colorado which were deployed starting within 3 days of the mainshock. Telemetry at one site allowed for real time monitoring of the ongoing seismic sequence. Local media interest was extremely high with speculation that the earthquake was linked to the oil and gas industry. The timetable of media demand for information provided some challenges given the time needed for data collection and analysis. We adopted a policy of open data and open communication with all interested parties, and made proactive attempts to provide information to industry and regulators. After 3 weeks of data collection and analysis, the proximity and timing of the mainshock and aftershocks to the C4A injection well, along with a sharp increase in seismicity culminating in an M 2.6 aftershock, led to a decision by the Colorado Oil and Gas Corporation Commission (COGCC) to recommend a temporary halt to injection at the C4A injection well. This was the first time that such action had been taken by the COGCC. This presentation provides an overview of the interactions among academic researchers, industry, media, and regulators during the period of rapid response to this earthquake sequence, and the role of seismology in informing those responses.