According to AER, the epicentre of the quake was about 2.5 kilometres from Vesta’s well site.
AER said Vesta contacted the regulator on March 4 at 6:20 a.m. saying that seismic activity was detected due to hydraulic fracturing (also known as fracking) at the site. AER said that Vesta had shut down fracking right away.
Fracking involves pumping chemicals and sand underground to break up rocks to help get oil and natural gas flowing.
WATCH (March 5, 2019): A 4.6-magnitude earthquake in central Alberta on Monday was triggered by hydraulic fracturing, according to the energy company working in the area. Vesta Energy has been ordered to stop fracking operations by the Alberta Energy Regulator. Lauren Pullen has the details from the order.
Erik Kuleba, AER’s director of environment and operational performance, said that a release of substances — defined in the order as “vibrations and the release of energy” — has occurred and that substances “have caused, are causing or may cause an adverse effect.”
The order said Kuleba considers it “necessary to suspend the well in order to protect the public and the environment.”
The regulator said the Calgary-based company must submit a report of all seismic activity in the area since April and specific fracturing data for the well site from Jan. 29 to Monday. It has also ordered Vesta to file a plan to eliminate or reduce future seismic activity from fracturing.
There are no reports of injuries or property damage as a result of the seismic event, Vesta said in an emailed statement to Global News.
“The safety of the public, employees and contractors is paramount, and Vesta takes this incident very seriously,” it read. “The company is co-operating with the Alberta Energy Regulator and is focused on meeting the conditions required to lift the order.”
A 4.6-magnitude earthquake hit central Alberta near Sylvan Lake and Red Deer just before 6 a.m. on Monday, according to Natural Resources Canada (NRC). There were no immediate reports of damage, but the community of Sylvan Lake said the power went out in most of the town Monday morning. The tremor was classified as a light earthquake, according to NRC.
Cause for concern and a chance to learn
Quakes occur occasionally in Alberta, and the ones caused by fracking are happening more often, according to University of Alberta geophysics professor Jeff Gu.
“Prior to 2010, there were fewer events of this size, and a lot of those were regular tectonic earthquakes,” he said. “But since 2010 or so, there have been heightened focuses on the Fox Creek area, which has many earthquakes associated with hydraulic fracturing.”
There is a strong correlation between earthquakes and ventures in the area, Gu said.
“In particular, the volume of injection has been associated with the heightened activities in that area,” he said.
However, Gu is not so worried about deaths and damage from quakes in this province.
“Here, magnitude 4.0s, 4.5s don’t usually lead to significant structural damages, loss of life, but there’s always concern about the environmental impact of these events, releases of substances from the operations, groundwater contamination,” Gu explained. “We’re more concerned about those issues here.”
When seismic episodes crop up, there is, thankfully, a lot of data to mine to expand upon a limited set. Scientists can learn from these events — the stresses that lead to faults, which faults are active — and better understand the region so new laws can be developed.
“Eventually, we want to lead to safer practices in the future, to reduce the risks,” Gu said.
“This is, really, a big problem that involves all parties. That includes the academics, the regulators, the operators. I think everybody can work together, work as a team to understand what happened and hopefully prevent future occurrences of these earthquakes.”
– With files from The Canadian Press