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Seismicity induced by massive wastewater injection near Puerto Gaitán, Colombia

August 6, 2020

Seven years after the beginning of a massive wastewater injection project in eastern Colombia, local earthquake activity increased significantly. The field operator and the Colombian Geological Survey immediately reinforced the monitoring of the area. Our analysis of the temporal evolution of the seismic and injection data together with our knowledge of the geological parameters of the region indicate that the surge of seismicity is being induced by the re-injection of produced water into the same three producing reservoirs. Earthquake activity began on known faults once disposal rates had reached a threshold of ∼2 × 106 m3 of water per month. The average reservoir pressure had remained constant at 7.6 MPa after several years of production, sustained by a large, active aquifer. Surface injection pressures in the seismically active areas remain below 8.3 MPa, a value large enough to activate some of the faults. Since faults are mapped throughout the region and many do not have seismicity on them, we conclude that the existence of known faults is not the only control on whether earthquakes are generated. Stress conditions of these faults are open to future studies. Earthquakes are primarily found in four clusters, located near faults mapped by the operator. The hypocentres reveal vertical planes with orientations consistent with focal mechanisms of these events. Stress inversion of the focal mechanisms gives a maximum compression in the direction ENE-WSW, which is in agreement with borehole breakout measurements. Since the focal mechanisms of the earthquakes are consistent with the tectonic stress regime, we can conclude that the seismicity is resulting from the activation of critically stressed faults. Slip was progressive and seismic activity reached a peak before declining to few events per month. The decline in seismicity suggests that most of the stress has been relieved on the main faults. The magnitude of a large majority of the recorded earthquakes was lower than 4, as the pore pressure disturbance did not reach the mapped large faults whose activation might have resulted in larger magnitude earthquakes. Our study shows that a good knowledge of the local fault network and conditions of stress is of paramount importance when planning a massive water disposal program. These earthquakes indicate that while faults provide an opportunity to dispose produced water at an economically attractive volume–pressure ratio, the possibility of induced seismicity must also be considered.

Publication Year 2020
Title Seismicity induced by massive wastewater injection near Puerto Gaitán, Colombia
DOI 10.1093/gji/ggaa326
Authors I Molina, J.S. Velasquez, Justin Rubinstein, A García-Aristizabal, V Dionicio
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Geophysical Journal International
Index ID 70212923
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Earthquake Science Center