Ellenburger wastewater injection and seismicity in North Texas

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North Texas has experienced a roughly exponential increase in seismicity since 2008. This increase is primarily attributable to wastewater injection into the Ellenburger Formation—a carbonate formation located within and just above seismically active zones. To our knowledge, there has been no previous comprehensive ∼10 year analysis comparing regional seismicity with basin-wide injection and injection pressure of wastewater into the Ellenburger, even though monthly injection/pressure records have been made publically available for nearly a decade. Here we compile and evaluate more than 24,000 monthly injection volume and pressure measurements for the Ellenburger formation. We compare Ellenburger injection pressures and volumes to basin-wide injection pressures and volumes, and to earthquake locations and rates. The analysis shows where cumulative injection volumes are highest, where injection pressures and formation pressures are increasing, how injection volumes have changed regionally with time, and how Ellenburger injection volumes and pressures correlate in space and time with recent seismicity in North Texas. Results indicate that between 2005 and 2014 at least 270 million m3 (∼1.7 billion barrels) of wastewater were injected into the Ellenburger formation. If we assume relative homogeneity for the Ellenburger and no significant fluid loss across the 63,000 km2 basin, this volume of fluid would increase pore fluid pressure within the entire formation by 0.09 MPa (∼13 psi). Recent spot measurements of pressure in the Ellenburger confirm that elevated fluid pressures ranging from 1.7 to 4.5 MPa (250–650 psi) above hydrostatic exist in this formation, and this may promote failure on pre-existing faults in the Ellenburger and underlying basement. The analysis demonstrates a clear spatial and temporal correlation between seismic activity and wastewater injection volumes across the basin, with earthquakes generally occurring in the central and eastern half of the basin, where Ellenburger wastewater injection cumulative volumes and estimated pressure increases are highest. The increased seismicity correlates with increased fluid pressure, which is a potential cause for these earthquakes. Based on these results, we hypothesize it is plausible that the cumulative pressure increase across the basin may trigger earthquakes on faults located tens of kilometers or more from injection wells, and this process may have triggered the Irving-Dallas earthquake sequence. We use these results to develop preliminary forecasts for the region concerning where seismicity will likely continue or develop in the future, and assess what additional data are needed to better forecast and constrain seismic hazard.




Hornbach, M. J., Jones, M., Scales, M., DeShon, H. R., Magnani, M. B., Frohlich, C., … Layton, M. (2016). Ellenburger wastewater injection and seismicity in North Texas. Physics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors, 261, 54–68. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pepi.2016.06.012

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