The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) has issued new rules which create a “traffic light” process in response to earthquakes believed to have been caused by hydraulic fracturing. Subsurface Order No. 2 comes after several seismic events that may be related to hydraulic fracturing were recorded in the Duvernay play near Fox Creek in northwestern Alberta. A 3.8 magnitude earthquake measured on the Richter scale happened on January 214, 2015 and a 4.4 magnitude earthquake was recorded on January 22, 2014. Both were felt by residents of Fox Creek but there were no injuries or damage.
Some researchers believe that these and other recent shallow earthquakes in the area are consistent with being induced by hydraulic fracturing operations although it is impossible to definitely state that they were not naturally occurring earthquakes. The Fox Creek area historically has not had a lot of seismicity until hydraulic fracturing operations started in 2013. Since then, researches have recorded hundreds of very minor earthquakes and aftershocks at depths much shallower than where natural earthquakes typically occur. The Alberta Geological Survey, a part of the AER, regularly monitors seismic activity throughout Alberta through the 53-station Regional Alberta Observatory for Earthquake Studies Network (RAVEN).
Subsurface Order No. 2 requires that effective immediately that every well licensee of a well with a surface or bottom hole located in the Duvernay zone at which any completion operations are contemplated that include hydraulic fracturing must:
- before beginning any completion operations that include hydraulic fracturing, assess the potential for induced seismicity and establish and implement a plan to monitor for, mitigate and respond to any induced seismicity that may occur or result from its completion operations;
- the monitoring must be capable of detecting a 2.0 local magnitude seismic event within 5 kilometres (3.1 miles) of the well;
- the licensee must immediately report to the AER all seismic events recorded of 2.0 or greater within 5 kilometres of the well and implement their induced seismicity plan in a manner that eliminates or reduces further seismic events;
- if a 4.0 or greater seismic event is recorded within 5 km of the well, the licensee must immediately stop hydraulic fracturing operations at the well and return the well to a safe state; and
- hydraulic fracturing of a well which have been suspended may only be recommenced with the AER’s written consent.