First research links California earthquakes to oil operations

SAN FRANCISCO - A 2005 spate of quakes in California's Central Valley almost certainly was triggered by oilfield injection underground, a study published Thursday said in the first such link in California between oil and gas operations and earthquakes.

See Full Article

Researchers at the University of California at Santa Cruz, the University of Southern California and two French universities published their findings Thursday in a publication of the American Geophysical Union. The research links a local surge in injection by oil companies of wastewater underground, peaking in 2005, with an unusual jump in seismic activity in and around the Tejon Oilfield in southern Kern County.

In Oklahoma and other Midwestern states, the U.S. Geological Survey and others have linked oilfield operations with a dramatic surge in earthquakes. Many of those quakes occur in swarms in places where oil companies pump briny wastewater left over from oil and gas production deep underground.

"It's important to emphasize that definitely California is not Oklahoma," lead author Thomas Goebel at the University of California at Santa Cruz said Thursday. "We don't really expect to see such a drastic increase in earthquake occurrences" in California given different oilfield methods and geology in the two areas.

In Kern County, the shaking topped out on Sept. 22, 2005, with three quakes, the biggest magnitude 4.6, researchers said.

Researchers calculated the odds of that happening naturally, independently of the oilfield operations, at just 3 per cent, Goebel said. However, the oilfield operation "may change the pressure on ... faults, and cause some local earthquakes" in California, he said.

Researchers are now studying other areas of the state to see if California's high background level of shakiness is obscuring other seismic activity possibly linked to oilfield activity. California is the country's No. 3 oil-producing state.

The Center for Biological Diversity environmental group, using state figures, estimates that the amount of oilfield wastewater injected underground in California climbed from 350 million barrels in 1999 to 900 million barrels in 2014.

Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of oil-industry group the Western States Petroleum Association, said the organization is reviewing the study. But she said the study's calls for careful monitoring are consistent with what the group's member companies are already doing.

California on Dec. 10 commissioned Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to study the overall potential for oilfield-induced quakes in the state, said Don Drysdale, spokesman for the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, the main oil regulatory agency. Rules that went into effect last year for some intensive forms of oil production require monitoring for seismic activity.

"In California, of course, we have a lot of natural seismicity here, so it's much more difficult" to establish that an earthquake was caused by oilfield activity than it is in places like Oklahoma, which used to be quiet, said Art McGarr, a seismologist at the U.S. Geological Survey's Earthquake Science Center in Menlo Park, California.

"Nonetheless, I think they made at least a fairly convincing case that these earthquakes were related to fluid injection" by oilfield operators, said McGarr. He called the researchers' analysis "quite careful."


Latest Tech & Science News

  • #RIPVine, long live stardom: Canadians who cashed in on Vine

    Tech & Science CBC News
    The timer has finally run out on Vine. When Twitter launched the micro-video feature back in 2013, it quickly became a viral enigma, challenging users to cram as much comedy, or culture, into each 480×480 pixel frame. Source
  • Fossilized dinosaur brain discovered on English beach

    Tech & Science CTV News
    What at first sight looked like just another brown pebble on an English beach turned out to be the first known example of fossilized brain tissue from a dinosaur. The brain tissue likely belonged to a species related to Iguanodon, a large herbivore that roamed the Earth approximately 133 million years ago, the Geological Society of London said in a blog post Thursday. Source
  • Apple's MacBook Pro gets a touch-sensitive panel [Photos]

    Tech & Science Toronto Sun
    CUPERTINO, Calif. — Apple unveiled long-awaited updates to its Mac computers Thursday, aiming to spark consumer interest in a product line often overshadowed by newer gadgets, such as the iPad and iPhone. The breakout feature is, as widely speculated, a new touch-sensitive panel on the MacBook Pro, Apple’s top-of-the-line laptop. Source
  • Tougher than steel, lighter than cotton: spider webs are a scientific marvel

    Tech & Science CBC News
    In amongst the jack-o'-lanterns, ghosts and goblins, spider webs always make a strong showing at this time of year. But spider webs are much more than just a spooky way to spice up your Halloween decorations. Source
  • Apple refreshes MacBook Pro with touch-sensitive strip

    Tech & Science CTV News
    CUPERTINO, Calif. -- Apple is announcing long-awaited updates to its Mac computers, aiming to spark consumer interest in a product line that often seems overshadowed by newer gadgets like the iPad and iPhone. Source
  • Study predicts deserts in Spain if global warming continues

    Tech & Science CTV News
    BERLIN -- Southern Spain will become desert and deciduous forests will vanish from much of the Mediterranean basin unless global warming is reined in sharply, according to a study released Thursday. Researchers used historical data and computer models to forecast the likely impact of climate change on the Mediterranean region, based on the range of scenarios that countries committed to at a global summit in France last year. Source
  • Twitter cutting 9% of staff, killing off Vine

    Tech & Science Toronto Sun
    NEW YORK — Twitter, seemingly unable to find a buyer and losing money, is cutting about 9% of its employees worldwide. The social media site has failed to keep pace with rivals Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram and in recent months, rumours that it would be acquired have run rampant. Source
  • New images show crater created on Mars by European lander

    Tech & Science CTV News
    BERLIN -- New images from a NASA satellite indicate that the European Space Agency's experimental Schiaparelli lander created a shallow crater on Mars when it plummeted to the surface last week. ESA lost communication with Schiaparelli shortly before the probe was supposed to touch down on Oct. Source
  • Battlefield 1 review: An odd way to play with history

    Tech & Science Toronto Sun
    Battlefield 1942 made war into an irreverent sport. Released in 2002 after a burst of Second World War nostalgia driven by Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, and the Medal of Honor games, Swedish studio DICE designed a 64-person multiplayer shooter that would emphasize co-operation across enormous maps using the finicky weapons of the Second World War. Source
  • Small brown pebble turns out to be 'pickled' dinosaur brain tissue

    Tech & Science CBC News
    When fossil hunter Jamie Hiscocks came upon small brown pebble more than a decade ago in Sussex, England, he knew there was something weird about it. Turns out he was right — his 2004 find marked the first ever discovery of fossilized dinosaur brain tissue. Source