A University of Alberta’s Department of Physics researcher says new data shows hydraulic fracturing in northwestern Alberta’s Fox Creek area was the cause of multiple earthquakes in the region.
Hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as “fracking,” is a process done by oil and gas companies to liberate gases trapped in rock. They inject water, sand and some chemicals into the ground through high pressure. The pressure increases fractures in rocks, causing the gas to emerge and be piped out.
The process has been blamed for contaminating drinking water and, in some cases, causing earthquakes.
Ruijia Wang, the lead author of the study, said before 2013, the Fox Creek area was quiet for seismic activity.
“Since 2016, Alberta has experienced a number of earthquakes with the magnitude close to 4.0. That brings both media attention and scientific interest, and since there is an increase in the seismic rate it makes us wonder why and how they are happening,” she told 630 CHED.
In January 2016, the community experienced a 4.93 magnitude quake, the strongest recorded in Alberta in the last decade.
Wang said the connection between fracking and earthquakes is based on the spatial and temporal relationship between the two.
“Analyzing the earthquake data, we find that the earthquakes are actually taking place at a depth very close to the hydraulic fracturing depth. And the time frame are very close with each other, so this is how we find the potential relationship between them.”
WATCH ABOVE: The link between fracking and Fox Creek
The PhD candidate is hoping her research will help to better understand the correlation between earthquakes and industrial activities involving fluid injection or extraction.
In Canada, fracking is associated with earthquakes — but in the United States, quakes are predominantly caused by wastewater disposal.
“Understanding why and how the earthquakes are induced in our area will help us to explain and answer many lingering questions why America is different from Canada.”
Wang said the study used regional seismic reporting to analyze the source of mechanisms of earthquakes near Fox Creek in 2016, induced by hydraulic fracturing.
The study was done in conjunction with the Alberta Geological Survey.
— With files from Emily Mertz, Global News