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Is it possible to anticipate whether a planned wastewater disposal activity will trigger earthquakes that are large enough to be of concern?

Currently, there are no methods available to do this in a definitive sense. We have developed methods that use injection information to help us determine whether injection activities might cause induced earthquakes and rule out other injection activities that are unlikely to induce earthquakes, but we cannot say either with certainty.

There are a number of conditions that increase the likelihood of inducing earthquakes. These include:

  1. Presence of a fault
  2. Stresses acting on the fault favorable to slip
  3. A pathway for the pressure increase from injection to interact with the fault
  4. High injection rates and/or rapid changes in injection rate
  5. Injection occurring within or close to very hard rocks at depth, known as crystalline basement

While we have not developed methods to determine whether specific injection wells will cause earthquakes, the USGS has developed models to forecast induced earthquake rates on a regional scale using what we know about injection on a regional scale.

Learn more: USGS Induced Earthquakes