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Earthquake source mechanisms and stress field variations associated with wastewater-induced seismicity in southern Kansas, USA

July 2, 2021

The strong increase of seismicity rates in the contiguous USA over the last 10 years is linked to the injection of huge amounts of wastewater from oil and gas production in unconventional hydrocarbon reservoirs. We calculated 549 moment tensors of induced earthquakes (MW ≤ 4.9) in southern Kansas to study their source mechanisms and their relation to injection activity. Seventeen percent of the events analyzed contained significant volumetric (ISO%) components, and these events mostly occurred near the two largest local earthquakes during the 4 months of largest active wastewater disposal. Mapping the local stress field, we determined that most of the region lies within a transtensional stress regime, with a maximum horizontal stress σHmax trending N75°E. In the epicentral area of the MW 4.9 Milan earthquake, the σHmax trend is rotated to about S80°E. Locally, two areas display a change in the stress field orientation with depth, from transtensional above 5.5 km depth to strike slip deeper in the basement. Relating the resolved fault geometries to the obtained local stress field orientation, we find that most of the activated fault planes were optimally oriented to the current stress field and thus small stress perturbations caused by the water injection could lead to failure.

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