A 4.4 magnitude earthquake that occurred in northern B.C. in 2014 has now been determined to be caused by fracking in the area and is the largest earthquake ever to be triggered by the process in this province.
CBC was first to confirm the earthquake’s cause this week after B.C.’s Oil and Gas Commission revealed over email the August 2014 quake was due to “fluid injection during hydraulic fracturing.”
Earthquakes caused by fracking are not a rare occurrence, especially in central and eastern United States where fracking has become more commonplace in the last five years. The U.S. Geological Survey indicates that quakes with a magnitude higher than 3.0 in the central U.S. have spiked since 2009, mirroring the trajectory of natural gas production from fracking in the region.
However, B.C. Minister of Natural Gas Development Rich Coleman says “felt seismic events related to hydraulic fracturing are rare. For example, approximately 2.6% of hydraulic fracturing operations in the Montney were linked to a seismic event. The Province has a leading role in North America in the detection and mitigation of induced seismicity associated with unconventional gas development and works closely with the Oil and Gas Commission and industry.”
SFU Earth Sciences professor John Clague says the likelihood of a damaging earthquake caused by fracking in B.C. is low.
“The threshold for damage is about magnitude 5. Nearly all fracking-induced earthquakes are small, typically less than magnitude 3. This does not mean, however, that a damaging magnitude 5 or 6 earthquake could not be caused by fracking in northeastern B.C.,” says Clague.
“The area is sparsely populated, thus the risk to the public is small. It is not inconceivable, however, that a fracking-induced earthquake in this region might damage the very infrastructure responsible for the quakes themselves.”
As pointed out by CBC, operations from Progress Energy, owned by Petronas of Malaysia, were responsible for the fracking that caused the 2014 quake. Petronas also owns Pacific NorthWest LNG, the firm currently working with the B.C. government to build a landmark LNG export plant near Prince Rupert. That LNG would be sourced from fracking in northern B.C.
The Province has added eight seismic monitoring stations to the northeast region now with 10 stations in total.
“The northeast area is under full-time monitoring using both regional and dense seismograph arrays. We implemented preventive measures that make sense for our province. Seismicity can be managed through geologic understanding, pumping protocols and monitoring,” said Coleman.
New regulations from the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission state that all drilling must be stopped if an earthquake reaching a magnitude of 4.0 or more is detected. Operations may only resume once the companies involved create a mitigation plan and have it approved by the Commission.
Clague maintains that fracking induced earthquakes aren’t something that the majority of the public should be overly concerned about.
“The risk is overstated. I’d be more worried about groundwater contamination, personally,” he told Vancity Buzz. “Fracking is a controversial practice. It’s had a huge economic and political impact, on oiil and natural gas prices and supplies. It’s an important economic driving in many countries, including Canada. Earthquakes are one side effect, groundwater contamination is another, methane gas is another.”
For those few living near fracking sites in northern B.C., Clague says he would be concerned on all fronts, especially as the Province aims to accelerate the LNG industry.
“Is it possible for fracking to produce a larger earthquake? That’s the big question.”