Officials with Natural Resources Canada (NRC) and the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission have confirmed a probable link between Thursday’s earthquake near Fort St. John and hydraulic fracturing.
The shalow quake, which NRC has finalized as maginude 4.45, struck at 5:27 p.m. PT about 16 kilometres southwest of the city.
Geological Survey of Canada research scientist Honn Kao said the agency and the Oil and Gas Commission have been investigating since the earthquake struck.
“Putting all this data together they have confirmed that there were active injection activities at the reported epicenter,” he said.
“The preliminary assessment is that we think this event is very likely to be induced.”
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Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, refers to a natural gas and oil extraction process that involves pumping fluids at high pressure into the ground to create tiny cracks in the rock.
The OGC said all fracking operations in the area were immediately shut down as a precaution, and that it launched an investigation.
“Mitigation strategies will be examined and put into place for any operations that are linked to the seismic events,” the agency said in a statement.
BC Hydro says it has completed inspections of the nearby Site C Dam, and that there has been no damage to the work site. Normal operations have resumed.
Scientists have conclusively determined that fracking can cause earthquakes, but use of the method does not always result in seismic activity.
Records from regulators indicate that there have been hundreds of earthquakes since 2015 in a heavily-fracked region of northwestern Alberta, and both B.C. and Alberta have seen fracking-related quakes that topped magnitude 4.5.
However, other regions get fracked without any quakes occurring.
Research has determined that fracking can cause earthquakes in specific situations where an underlying fault line exists and too much fluid is used.
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Another recent study has suggested the likelihood of a quake is linked to how stable the ground was before fracking operations began their work.
Gao said while such quakes are clearly very noticeable to people in the communities they affect, so far they’ve produced no risk to public safety.
“From the hazards point of view or the risk or damages point of view, a magnitude four-point-something earthquake is not going to have great damage at all,” he said.
“Our building code is designed to actually withstand the ground shaking higher than this level,” he said.
-With files from the Canadian Press