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Induced seismicity strategic vision

March 6, 2024

Executive Summary

The U.S. Geological Survey has a long history of contributions to the understanding and resolution of various scientific questions related to earthquakes associated with human activities, referred to as induced seismicity. Work started with the Rocky Mountain Arsenal studies in the 1960’s (Healy and others, 1968) when it was first discovered that fluid waste-disposal operations can cause earthquakes. U.S. Geological Survey work on induced seismicity continued in the intervening years but expanded dramatically in the early 2010s. Disposal of large volumes of wastewater, a byproduct of oil and gas production, into the subsurface caused an exponential increase in earthquakes in the central United States, including earthquakes that caused damage to buildings and infrastructure in nearby communities. Established in 2012 within the Earthquake Hazards Program (EHP), the Induced Seismicity Project (ISP) examines earthquakes that are induced by human activities to assess and mitigate the hazards associated with induced earthquakes as well as understand the conditions and processes controlling induced and natural earthquake generation and recurrence. The ISP examines instances of suspected induced earthquakes, in real-time and retrospectively, to assess the probabilistic hazard and investigate possibilities for reducing that hazard, something currently not possible with natural earthquake activity. The ISP has many synergies with work across multiple areas of EHP, including earthquake monitoring, hazard mitigation, and fundamental research into earthquake processes.

The overarching questions that guided the development of our research strategies and approaches are as follows:
  • How can seismicity that is induced by industrial activities be better distinguished from natural processes, particularly in regions with higher rates of natural seismicity?
  • Can faults that may be at increased hazard for induced seismicity be identified based on existing fault structures, past earthquake activity, local stress conditions, or other information?
  • What geologic and operational conditions control the occurrence, spatial and temporal evolution, maximum magnitude, ground shaking, and other characteristics of induced seismic sequences?
  • What roles do surface and subsurface deformation, aseismic slip, and other processes play in the occurrence of injection-induced earthquakes?
  • How can induced seismicity be better forecasted to support the Nation’s energy production and climate mitigation goals while limiting related earthquake hazards?

In this report, background on induced seismicity and an overview of the state of knowledge is provided in three topical task areas: (1) oil and gas, (2) geothermal, and (3) geologic CO2 sequestration. This report then presents the EHP’s goals, strategies, and approaches—primarily focused on work in the ISP—for understanding the conditions that lead to induced seismicity, mitigating the associated hazards, and assisting the Nation in meeting its future needs in energy production and mitigation of climate change. Finally, the key limitations and opportunities for innovation are outlined at the end of the report.

Publication Year 2024
Title Induced seismicity strategic vision
DOI 10.3133/cir1509
Authors Elizabeth S. Cochran, Justin L. Rubinstein, Andrew J. Barbour, J. Ole Kaven
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Circular
Series Number 1509
Index ID cir1509
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Earthquake Science Center