Increased Earthquake Rates in the Central and Eastern US Portend Higher Earthquake Hazards
Abstract:Since 2009 the central and eastern United States has experienced an unprecedented increase in the rate of M≥3 earthquakes that is unlikely to be due to natural variation. Where the rates have increased so has the seismic hazard, making it important to understand these changes. Areas with significant seismicity increases are limited to areas where oil and gas production take place. By far the largest contributor to the seismicity increase is Oklahoma, where recent studies suggest that these rate changes may be due to fluid injection (e.g., Keranen et al., Geology, 2013; Science, 2014). Moreover, the area of increased seismicity in northern Oklahoma that began in 2013 coincides with the Mississippi Lime play, where well completions greatly increased the year before the seismicity increase. This suggests a link to oil and gas production either directly or from the disposal of significant amounts of produced water within the play.
For the purpose of assessing the hazard due to these earthquakes, should they be treated differently from natural earthquakes? Previous studies suggest that induced seismicity may differ from natural seismicity in clustering characteristics or frequency-magnitude distributions (e.g., Bachmann et al., GJI, 2011; Llenos and Michael, BSSA, 2013). These differences could affect time-independent hazard computations, which typically assume that clustering and size distribution remain constant. In Oklahoma, as well as other areas of suspected induced seismicity, we find that earthquakes since 2009 tend to be considerably more clustered in space and time than before 2009. However differences between various regional and national catalogs leave unclear whether there are significant changes in magnitude distribution.
Whether they are due to natural or industrial causes, the increased earthquake rates in these areas could increase the hazard in ways that are not accounted for in current hazard assessment practice. Clearly the possibility of induced earthquakes needs to be considered in seismic hazard assessments.