WATCH ABOVE: A 4.4 magnitude earthquake near Fox Creek was the biggest ever connected to fracking. As Eric Szeto explains, there are new rules in Alberta.
EDMONTON — Nearly two months after a 4.4 magnitude earthquake shook the area around Fox Creek, Alta., some residents are still shaken. Seismic activity in the area has been on the rise lately, but residents say there are few answers to why the earth is shaking.
“If I knew that it was going on for the last year, but nobody else knew, what else do we not know?” asked resident Barb Ryan.
Each year, Alberta averages 30 earthquakes. Since December 2013 there have been 200 in the Fox Creek area alone.
The 4.4 magnitude earthquake on Jan. 22, 2015 is the largest ever connected to fracking.
“Unfortunately that’s what it came to in order to get the attention or sound the alarm if you will,” said Ryan.
Experts believe the tremors are caused hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Fracking involves injecting a chemical mixture into the ground. The pressure of the fluids then breaks shale formations and releases oil or natural gas for capture.
The process has been blamed for contaminating drinking water and in some cases causing earthquakes. The quake in Fox Creek is the largest ever to be connected to the fracking process. Many worry that as production increases, the tremors will become more frequent and more intense.
“That’s the real concern,” said Gail Atkinson, a seismologist at the University of Western Ontario.
“While most of them are completely harmless and not even felt, there’s the potential for the odd larger event that could in fact be damaging.”
Since the 1950s, there have been 120,000 wells that have been hydraulically fractured in Alberta. Four-thousand of them are around Fox Creek.
Operations are also growing in places like Texas, Oklahoma and Ohio. All those areas are also reporting more earthquakes.
“Ohio is a place that doesn’t have many earthquakes,” said Mike Brudzinksi from the Department of Geology and Environmental Earth Science at Miami University. “We typically have a handful per year. So to have a larger number, dozens of earthquakes in a couple days, is very unusual.”
Since the Fox Creek quake in January, Alberta’s Energy Regulator has created new rules. AER now requires operators to increase the monitoring and reporting of seismic activity. Operations must stop if an earthquake 4.0 or higher is detected and anything between two and four on the scale must also be reported in the new red light system.
“Currently it’s an interim plan. It’s only for the Fox Creek area,” said Todd Shipman, manager of Landscape and Geohazards at the Alberta Energy Regulator.
“It’s because we just don’t understand what would be a good regulation. We really don’t know that answer yet. We’re trying to develop that answer and understand.”
No major earthquakes have been reported near Fox Creek since the new system was put in place.