Characterizing potentially induced earthquake rate changes in the brawley seismic zone, Southern California

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Abstract

The Brawley seismic zone (BSZ), in the Salton trough of southern California, has a history of earthquake swarms and geothermal energy exploitation. Some earthquake rate changes may have been induced by fluid extraction and injection activity at local geothermal fields, particularly at the North Brawley Geothermal Field (NBGF) and at the Salton Sea Geothermal Field (SSGF). We explore this issue by examining earthquake rate changes and interevent distance distributions in these fields. In Oklahoma and Arkansas, where considerable wastewater injection occurs, increases in background seismicity rate and aftershock productivity and decreases in interevent distance were indicative of fluid-injection-induced seismicity. Here, we test if similar changes occur that may be associated with fluid injection and extraction in geothermal areas. We use stochastic epidemic-type aftershock sequence models to detect changes in the underlying seismogenic processes, shown by statistically significant changes in the model parameters. The most robust model changes in the SSGF roughly occur when large changes in net fluid production occur, but a similar correlation is not seen in the NBGF. Also, although both background seismicity rate and aftershock productivity increased for fluid-injection-induced earthquake rate changes in Oklahoma and Arkansas, the background rate increases significantly in the BSZ only, roughly corresponding with net fluid production rate increases. Moreover, in both fields the interevent spacing does not change significantly during active energy projects. This suggests that, although geothermal field activities in a tectonically active region may not significantly change the physics of earthquake interactions, earthquake rates may still be driven by fluid injection or extraction rates, particularly in the SSGF.

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Llenos, A. L., & Michael, A. J. (2016). Characterizing potentially induced earthquake rate changes in the brawley seismic zone, Southern California. Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, 106(5), 2045–2062. https://doi.org/10.1785/0120150053

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