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"Context is everything" when linking fracking with earthquakes

Kevin Heffernan of the Canadian Society of Unconventional Resources was at the Fort St. John and District Chamber of Commerce luncheon today, speaking about the link between fracking and earthquakes. He argues that reading headlines about induced seismicity may raise some concerns, but that "context is everything".

"If you define earthquakes the right way, everything that we do as humans is causing earthquakes, we just can't detect them," he told the crowd. "These are very, very minor events that are occurring two kilometres under ground."

A recent study released by the Oil and Gas Commission found that fracking has caused several low-level earthquakes in the Horn River Basin.
 
Between April 2009 and December 2011, 38 were reported by Natural Resources Canada, and another 234 were recorded by seismographs in the Etsho and Kiwigana areas. The largest earthquake ever attributed to fracking in the Horn River Basin registered at a 3.8 on the Richter scale, but Heffernan says it's more typically to see "microseisms" in the minus three to zero magnitude.
 
He calls earthquakes a "badly misunderstood phenomenon", and points out that there are millions of these low-level seismic events every year which are induced by human activity. He adds that there was no risk to public safety or the environment from any of those events.
 
"We do lots of things as people that induce earthquakes," he says, like underground mining, dam construction, disposal wells and geothermal development. 40:30 "If it was me, I wouldn't get hung up about about induced seismicity."
 
He maintains that there are bigger risks to worry about from the oil and gas industry, particularly problems that occur at the surface of well sites, like during the movement of chemicals and trucks.
 
"That makes me a big proponent of multi-well pads, because it reduces the amount of men and materials and vehicles that are moving around the countryside, as well as reducing habitat fragmentation and pipelines."
 
Since the study, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers issued new guidelines to address the threat of earthquakes caused by fracking. The OGC also made seven recommendations, which include improving the accuracy of the Canadian National Seismograph Network in northeast B.C., performing geological and seismic assessments to identify pre-existing faulting, establishing induced seismicity monitoring and reporting Procedures and Requirements, and stationing ground motion sensors near selected northeast B.C. communities to quantify risk from ground motion.