Can Storing CO2 Underground Cause Earthquakes? – Alberta Scientists Probe

This entry was posted by Sunday, 31 January, 2010
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Ok, so we are not the first to raise this topic – “could storing massive quantities of CO2 underground result in earthquakes?”.

Many folks have asked this before, and the experts in the CCS industry have assured us that when done properly (specifically, when the injection of CO2 is done at the proper rate and pressure and when proper monitoring mechanisms are in place), there is no danger whatsoever of earthquakes happening as a result of CO2 injection into the ground.

Such assurances have obviously not satisfied everyone.

A team of researchers from the University of Calgary are studying the impact of the oil and gas industry and the CO2 burial on seismic activity.

Specifically, this team from the University of Calgary is asking if such activities could cause earthquakes in the normally calm crust of Alberta?

Most tremors in Alberta are too small to notice but sizable earthquakes do occur — as in 2001, when a 5.4-magnitude event rocked the northern Dawson Creek area and was felt as far south as Edmonton.

Scientists at the U of C’s geoscience department hope to learn more about what causes these poorly understood subterranean movements by installing a series of monitoring devices across Alberta.

The Alberta government has promised $2 billion toward carbon capture technologies, with the federal government earmarking $1 billion toward a clean-energy fund.

The project is the second of its kind launched this year in Alberta. The U of C’s stations can send data over the Internet, where it will be accessible to people all over the world. So, we can all hope to understand more about this important aspect.

More from here on the Alberta team’s efforts

I also thought I’d get some answers to the question “Can CO2 burial underground cause earthquakes?”

Here are two answers, one from The Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR), Germany and the other from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, USA


BGR, Germany – While injecting the CO2 into the geological reservoir, one of the key issues is pressure control. The injection process has to be constantly monitored and controlled so that the overlying seal rock does not crack. Because earthquakes are caused by such cracks, best practice injection procedures would effectively prevent them from happening ( Link)

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Earth Sciences Division – “During the 1950s it was discovered that injection of fluids at high pressures could cause small-to-medium-sized earthquakes. Subsequent scientific studies identified “hydrofracturing”, slippage along pre-existing fractures, and fault activation as the causes for these earthquakes. Based on understanding local and regional stresses in the earth’s crust, guidelines have been developed to prevent injection-induced microseismicity. Now, regulatory agencies limit injection rates and pressures to avoid unintentional hydrofracturing. Microseismic monitoring is often done early in a project to establish operational parameters for injection. Carbon dioxide storage projects would operate under similar guidelines, thus eliminating concerns about causing earthquakes. In addition, CO2-EOR and natural gas storage projects operate without generating significant seismic events.” (Link, Page 23, )

4 Responses to “Can Storing CO2 Underground Cause Earthquakes? – Alberta Scientists Probe”

  1. Margie Wylie

    I’m a geologist and I can say you for sure, storing carbon dioxide below ground can trigger massive earth quakes or at least can give rise to micro level earth quakes. To substantiate my point here is a reference taken from the Stanford University website.

    It has been known that earthquakes can be triggered and controlled by perturbing the system as a result of changing fluid pressure. In an effort to alleviate global warming by storing massive amount of carbon dioxide underground can end up in causing earthquakes- Says Stanford geophysicist, Professor Mark Zoback.

    According to Zoback, sufficient evidence suggests that pumping huge volumes of the gas underground, as would be necessary to stem global warming, could cause small intraplate earthquakes. Most earthquakes occur at the boundary of two tectonic plates, while intraplate activity takes place along fissures within the plates.

    He wrote, “While the seismic waves from such earthquakes might not directly threaten the public, small earthquakes at depth could threaten the integrity of CO2 repositories, expected to store CO2 for periods of hundreds to thousands of years.”

    “The interior of the continent is crisscrossed by ancient faults that often are poised to fail.”
    Zoback calls this a state of “failure equilibrium.” Injecting carbon dioxide into thousands of such sites is likely to activate faults or advance the occurrence of an earthquake”.

    Other reference: (Waysoutnews.com) and (Paloalto.patch.com)

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