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Myths and facts on wastewater injection, hydraulic fracturing, enhanced oil recovery, and induced seismicity

August 1, 2015

The central United States has undergone a dramatic increase in seismicity over the past 6 years (Fig. 1), rising from an average of 24 M≥3 earthquakes per year in the years 1973–2008 to an average of 193 M≥3 earthquakes in 2009–2014, with 688 occurring in 2014 alone. Multiple damaging earthquakes have occurred during this increase including the 2011 M 5.6 Prague, Oklahoma, earthquake; the 2011 M 5.3 Trinidad, Colorado, earthquake; and the 2011M 4.7 Guy‐Greenbrier, Arkansas, earthquake. The increased seismicity is limited to a few areas and the evidence is mounting that the seismicity in many of these locations is induced by the deep injection of fluids from nearby oil and gas operations. Earthquakes that are caused by human activities are known as induced earthquakes. Most injection operations, though, do not appear to induce earthquakes. Although the message that these earthquakes are induced by fluid injection related to oil and gas production has been communicated clearly, there remains confusion in the popular press beyond this basic level of understanding.

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