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Alberta - October 4, 2019

If an earthquake happens, but no one can feel it, did it really happen?

To answer that, we’d need to speak to the people who study earthquakes: seismologists. They say that earthquakes don’t have to be felt on the surface to be recorded by monitoring equipment. In fact, you probably don’t feel most earthquakes unless they register a magnitude over 3 on the Richter scale—but the ground beneath your feet is always moving.

Seismicity, the study of ground movement, has been monitored in Alberta since the mid-1960s. Over the years, the technology used to do it has advanced—so much so that it can detect even faint seismic movements like those caused by a truck rumbling down the highway. This monitoring allows us to see the impact that activities on the surface (hydraulic fracturing) have on movement deep below the surface.

Ryan Schultz, an Alberta Geological Survey seismologist, published a study in the journal Science linking hydraulic fracturing and earthquakes in 2018. The study was a breakthrough for the oil and gas industry, as it confirmed what many have suspected for a long time: that hydraulic fracturing can trigger earthquakes.

“Studying induced seismicity helps us get a sense of what areas may be subject to experiencing earthquakes,” explains Schultz. “By monitoring seismic activity, we have a robust understanding of the science so we can help create regulations.”

Since the publication, the AER has been able to monitor hydraulic fracturing operations in the province more effectively and, operators have been able to plan their hydraulic fracturing activities better, reducing the chances of triggering an earthquake.

And as for Schultz, he’ll be furthering his studies at Stanford as he works toward a Ph.D. in induced earthquakes.

To find out more about whether hydraulic fracturing can cause an earthquake, watch this video from the AER’s Conversations That Matter series.

External News Coverage

Why some fracking wells are prone to triggering earthquakes
CBC | January 18, 2018

Study defines link between fracking, earthquakes in northern Alberta
Financial Post | January 18, 2018

U of A scientist links fracking and earthquakes in new study
The Gateway | March 30, 2018

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