Each year there are an estimated 900,000 earthquakes across the Earth registering 2.5 magnitude or less, 30,000 registering 2.5 to 5.4 magnitude and 500 registering 5.5 to 6.0 magnitude (UPSeis).
Wow, that’s a lot of earthquakes that could potentially affect your pipeline integrity each year!
Luckily, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and New Century Software have your back for all your planning, maintenance, integrity and compliance needs. In July of this year (2014), USGS updated its U.S. National Seismic Hazard Maps, which now reflect a more current and accurate understanding of where and how hard possible future earthquakes will occur (Geospatial Solutions).
Based on this updated information, USGS has determined 42 out of the 50 states have a reasonable chance of experiencing damaging ground shaking over the next 50 years.
Not the best news.
But don’t fret! These maps and data paired with New Century Software GIS solutions can help manage and prepare for possible impacts by:
- Assessing risk and hazard locations in relation to populations, property, and natural resources
- Integrating data and enabling understanding of the scope of an emergency to manage an incident
- Determining preventive and mitigating solutions
- Identifying important emergency response and incident management needs
- Assessing short- and long-term recovery operations
Of the identified areas, several are now believed to be capable of undergoing larger and more destructive quakes than in the past. Colorado has showed signs of this in the past few months. On May 31st, Weld County was shaken with an unexpected 3.4 magnitude earthquake that occurred 5 miles below the Earth’s surface; then again on June 21st with a 2.6 magnitude quake occurring 3 miles below the surface. Up until this time, the Weld County area hadn’t experienced any similar activity for about 30 years.
So, what caused these earthquakes?
There has been a lot of speculation around fracking and wastewater injection sites being the contributing factor. Why is that you ask? Well, injection sites dispose of water used during the fracking process, usually by returning it to depths below the aquifer levels (Coloradoan). Across the country, there are around 40,000 injection wells for oil and gas waste; 28 of which are in Weld County. There are 2 injection wells within the proximity of the epicenter to the quake on May 31st; one being 1.6 miles deep and the other 2 miles deep (Greeley Tribune). These sites have been temporarily shut down while the cause of the quakes is further examined.
Given the popularity and controversy around the hydraulic fracturing process, the USGS included an additional layer to their maps to allow for potential injection-induced earthquakes. However, this has proved to be a challenge since these earthquakes don’t behave in the same fashion as natural quakes.
As the methods for obtaining, refining and transporting natural resources change and evolve, there can be unanswered questions and unexpected side-effects at first. It is up to you to gather the best knowledge and tools available but we'll be sure to keep sharing useful information and identifying innovative GIS-enabled applications to help.