New study detects thousands of earthquakes in B.C. Peace region, most linked to fracking

B.C.’s Peace region is experiencing roughly 1,500 small earthquakes a year and most of them are connected to fracking operations, according to a new study.

Researchers set up 15 earthquake detectors around the region and recorded 5,757 tiny earthquakes that were otherwise undetected between 2017 and 2019.

“The vast majority of them seem to be connected with hydraulic fracking operations,” said Alessandro Verdecchia, one of the study’s lead researchers, during an interview on CBC’s Daybreak North. The research was published in the Seismological Research Letters journal in July.

According to the McGill University geophysicist, the connection was made by pinpointing the precise time and location of seismic events and comparing that data to information from fracking companies about their operations.

“If we see some kind of connection in time and place between the operation and the occurrence of the earthquake we can associate an occurrence of the earthquake with the fracking operation.”

Detecting large magnitude quakes

Verdecchia says the researchers are trying to determine the largest magnitude earthquake that can be created by fracking in the western Canada sedimentary basin, a region in northeast British Columbia that includes the Montney Formation, a shale gas area that’s home to nearly 3,000 production wells.

“Large magnitude events can produce larger acceleration and velocity of the ground and, of course, can produce larger damages to infrastructure,” he said.

In 2018, a 4.5 magnitude earthquake shook Fort St. John. No damage was reported, but people could feel it as far as Dawson Creek and Chetwynd.

Verdecchia says the largest magnitude detected in the western Canada sedimentary basin that’s been associated with fracking was a 4.6 event in August 2015. However, in China, there has been a magnitude 5.5 seismic event that’s been connected with a hydraulic fracking operation.

The other thing researchers want to understand is how far from the fracking these events can occur.

“This will be helpful for operators when they decide to start a fracking well, to begin operations, because they can more or less keep a distance let’s say from important infrastructures or populated areas,” Verdecchia explained.

According to the research so far, seismic events have been detected at a distance as far as five kilometres from the fracking operations.

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