Alberta NDP MLA Brian Mason is calling for a “robust, science-based examination” after the 4.4 magnitude Fox Creek earthquake Jan. 22, which may be linked to hydraulic fracturing in the area. That examination is already underway, as Beacon Energy News reported Friday. Mason, the MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood, issued a press release Tuesday in which he claimed, “According to experts, it seems very likely that this earthquake was linked to fracking activities in the immediate area.” In fact, experts never made that claim at all. A media representative of the Alberta Energy Regulator issued a statement that said, “The location of the earthquake is consistent with being induced by hydraulic fracturing operations. The occurrence of a cluster of earthquakes preceding the larger earthquakes suggests that it is an induced earthquake. It is, however, impossible to definitively state that it was not a naturally occurring event.” With all respect to the hard working media staff of the AER, they are not experts on earthquakes. Those would be seismologists, the folks with PhDs behind their names. Like Dr. Todd Shipman, the scientist at the Alberta Geological Survey I interviewed about the Fox Creek earthquake, which occurred 33 kilometres west of the small community 268 kilometres northwest of Edmonton. When Mason said in his release that “it is imperative that Alberta Environment and the Alberta Energy Regulator move quickly to develop the required investigation, using the best science and the best independent experts,” surely it was Dr. Shipman he had in mind. What Dr. Shipman told me is that the research has already been started. The seismology data has been collected by the AGS sensors. And a request has been sent to the service company for the fracturing data – dates and times of pumping, volumes, locations, etc. Dr. Shipman and his team will then compare the seismology data to the fracturing data and look for correlations. If the correlation between the data
sets is strong, the scientists can say there is a strong probability the 4.4 Fox Creek earthquake was caused by fracturing. If the correlation is weak or non-existent, the probability fracturing caused the tremor, which was felt at surface by residents of Fox Creek, is low. But as Dr. Shipman explained in our interview, scientists cannot say with absolute certainty that fracturing caused an earthquake. TheFox Creek earthquake is of interest because it is stronger than quakes usually associated with fracturing.
NDP MLA Brian Mason.
A 2012 study by the BC Oil and Gas Commission recorded 272 microearthquakes in N.E. BC that were strongly correlated to fracturing activities. The majority of the earthquakes registered between 2.3 and 3.1 on the Richter scale. A few were as strong as 3.8, and one was felt as a slight tremor at surface. None were as high as the Fox Creek earthquake, which Dr. Shipman suggests may be evidence the earthquake was naturally occurring and not caused by fracturing at all. OilfieldPULSE | FEBRUARY 2015