A recent U.S. Geological Survey report predicts the earth may be moving less under our feet in 2017, but it doesn’t mean that the danger of an earthquake doesn’t still exist.
While the study forecast fewer damaging earthquakes in the central and eastern United States — areas where temblors have been linked to wastewater disposal wells used in the hydraulic fracturing process — it also noted that there is still more seismicity in that region than 10 years ago.
As a result, energy companies may find helpful a new software tool developed by Stanford University, with the help of Exxon Mobil and others. The technology enables them to calculate the risk of triggering an earthquake when using injection wells and other activities associated with oil and gas production.
It is timely because things are picking up again and timely because now seismicity is an agenda item for the oil and gas industry,
Mark Zobach, Stanford geophysics professor
The Fault Slip Potential software uses information typically collected by energy companies such as how much wastewater injection will increase pressure, information about natural stresses in the earth and knowledge of pre-existing faults in the area.
Mark Zoback, a geophysics professor at Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, said the earth has a lot of faults where slips have occurred in the past. The tool allows a company to use information to identify faults before injection begins.
Regulators can also use the tool to identify areas where drilling may be problematic.
“It is timely because things are picking up again and timely because now seismicity is an agenda item for the oil and gas industry,” said Zobach, who developed the tool with graduate student Rall Walsh. “We think it will be in widespread use before very long.”
The school is allowing the software to be downloaded for free from its website. Zobach and Walsh tested it in Oklahoma, with some success.
Kris Nygaard, an engineer with the Exxon Mobil Upstream Research Company, worked closely with Stanford on its development. XTO Energy in Fort Worth, which is owned by Exxon, has been screening for seismic risk management since 2016, he said.
Nygaard said his company feels strongly that this is “about sharing information so we can proactively work to reduce seismicity.”
“Putting all the pieces together, that was the major collaboration — software scripts — that provided for a collaborative end product that allows other users to be able to use it more effectively,,” Nygaard said.