Software May Help Oil Companies Determine a Location’s Earthquake Potential

New software for monitoring the probability of earthquakes in a targeted location could help energy companies determine where they can operate safely.

The free tool, developed by Stanford University’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, helps operators estimate how much pressure nearby faults can handle before rupturing, by combining three important pieces of information:

  • Location and geometry of the fault
  • Natural stresses in the ground
  • Pressure changes likely to be brought on by injections

“Faults are everywhere in the Earth’s crust, so you can’t avoid them. Fortunately, the majority of them are not active and pose no hazard to the public. The trick is to identify which faults are likely to be problematic, and that’s what our tool does,” said Mark Zoback, professor of geophysics at Stanford, who developed the approach with graduate student Rail Walsh.

Fossil fuel exploration companies have been linked to the increased number of earthquakes in some areas—Oklahoma in particular—that have been determined to be the result of fracking. According to the Dallas Morning News:

Only around 10% of wastewater wells in the central and eastern United States have been linked with earthquakes. But that small share, scientists believe, helped kick-start the most dramatic earthquake surge in modern history.

From 2000 — before the start of America’s recent energy boom — to 2015, Oklahoma saw its earthquake rate jump from two per year to 4,000 per year. In 2016, its overall number fell to 2,500, but its quakes grew stronger.

Five other states, including Texas, Arkansas and Kansas, have seen unprecedented increases in ground shaking tied to the wells, although North Texas had no earthquakes strong enough to be felt last year.

The insurance industry has also been monitoring the rise in temblors. A Swiss Re report concluded, “It’s highly likely that this dramatic rise in earthquake occurrence is largely a consequence of human actions.”

According to the report:

Along with the increase in seismicity, Oklahoma has seen a growth in its oil and natural gas operations since 2008, specifically hydraulic fracturing (often referred to as “hydrofracking” or “fracking”) and the disposal of wastewater via deep well injection. Both hydrofracking and deep well injection involve pumping high-pressure fluids into the ground. A consensus of scientific opinion now links these practices to observed increases in seismic activity. Earthquakes where the cause can be linked to human actions are termed ‘induced earthquakes,’ and present an emerging risk of which the insurance industry is taking note.

Authorities Examine Hotel Owner’s Request for Help Before Italian Avalanche

avalanche barriers
As the search for survivors at an Italian hotel buried during an avalanche continues, an investigation has been launched into a distress call and emails for help by the hotel’s owner. Triggered by a series of earthquakes, the avalanche claimed the lives of at least 14 people, with 15 still missing, according to reports. A staff of eight and 20 guests were reported to have been at the hotel at the time.

Bruno Di Tommaso, owner of hotel Rigopiano, a popular ski resort, reportedly sent an email asking for help from authorities in the nearby town of Pescara. “The phones are out of service. Customers are terrified by the earthquakes and have decided to stay outdoors. We tried to do everything possible to calm them but, unable to leave because of blocked roads, they are willing to spend the night in the car,” his email read. “With our shovels we were able to clean the driveway, from the gate to the SS42 (state road). Aware of the general difficulties, we ask you to intervene.”

The UK’s Telegraph reported that prosecutors in Pescara have opened an investigation into the situation, questioning why there was no attempt to evacuate the hotel. Investigators looking into possible manslaughter charges are examining Di Tommaso’s email.

According to the Telegraph:

Authorities had reportedly promised to send a snow plow to clear the road to the hotel on Wednesday afternoon, but its arrival was constantly postponed and in the end it did not turn up at all, amid reports that some snow plow in the region were out of service while others had been dispatched to other emergencies.

There have already been claims that when the alarm was first raised, by a man who survived the avalanche by luck because he was collecting medicine from his car, his pleas for help were initially rebuffed by emergency services.

The quakes struck near Amatrice, one of the towns destroyed in August by an earthquake that left almost 300 people dead and thousands homeless.

Business Interruption Seen as Top Risk Globally

A survey of more than 1,200 risk managers and corporate insurance experts in over 50 countries identified business interruption as the top concern for 2017. According to the sixth annual Allianz Risk Barometer of top business risks, this is the fifth successive year that business interruption has been seen as the biggest risk.
top-10-risks

“Companies worldwide are bracing for a year of uncertainty,” Chris Fischer Hirs, CEO of AGCS said in a statement. “They are concerned about rather unpredictable changes in the legal, geopolitical and market environment around the world. A range of new risks are emerging beyond the perennial perils of fire and natural catastrophes and require re-thinking of current monitoring and risk management tools.”

While natural disasters and fires are what businesses fear most, non-damage events such as a cyber incident, terrorism or political violence resulting in denial of access are moving higher up on the scale, according to the report. These types of incidents can cause large loss of income to companies, without actual physical loss.

The second concern, market developments, could result from stagnant markets or M&As, or from digitalization and use of new technologies.

Cyberrisk, third on the list of perils, has jumped up from 15th place in just four years. Cyber was identified as the second concern in the United States and Europe.

According to Allianz:

The results indicate that cyber risk occupies a significant portion of a company’s exposure map. The risk now goes far and beyond the issue of privacy and data breaches. A single incident, be it a technical glitch, human error or an attack, can lead to severe business interruption, loss of market share and cause reputational damage. Of the top 10 global risks in the 2017 Allianz Risk Barometer, a cyber incident could be a potential root cause or trigger for 50% of them. In addition, the toughening of data protection regulation regimes around the world is also contributing to this risk being at the forefront of risk managers’ minds, as penalties for non-compliance are increasingly severe.

Fourth on the list, natural catastrophes added up to $150 billion in total economic losses in 2016—with insured losses accounting for $42 billion of those losses—up from $28 billion in 2015, according to the report. Businesses also are more concerned about the impact of climate change and increasing weather volatility year-on-year.

Trump outlook for 2017

“Opportunities and challenges,” says Ludovic Subran, head of Euler Hermes Economic Research and deputy chief economist of Allianz research. “Companies which are domestic, either a regional multinational or national, will benefit. However, the business environment for large multi-national corporations who do have global, strongly regionally diversified business models will be more challenging. Stronger regional interests will make the lives of companies more complicated as there will be increasing protectionist regulation.”

Earthquake Spike in Oklahoma Linked to Fracking

ok-earthquake-shake-map
A magnitude 5.0 earthquake that rocked Cushing, Oklahoma, on Nov. 6 damaged part of the city’s downtown district, but left no major damage to bridges or highways.

Early reports indicate the damage is not insignificant. A 16-block area in the hard-hit downtown has been sectioned off because of the danger posed by unstable structures and broken glass. No serious injuries or fatalities have been reported, however. Power in Cushing was out for less than an hour following the quake, and several gas leaks were taken care of.

The city, which has a population of 7,900, is noted as the world’s largest oil storage terminal and has experienced 19 earthquakes in just the past week, raising safety concerns. As of last week, the town’s tank farms held 58.5 million barrels of crude oil, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The number of earthquakes in the area has also risen exponentially. During the first half of this year, 618 temblors of M2.8 or greater have shaken Oklahoma.

eq-activity

Swiss Re noted in its September 2016 report The Link Between Hydrofracking, Wastewater Injection and Earthquakes: Key Issues for Re/insurers:

Since 2008 the number of magnitude 3.0 earthquakes per year has grown from roughly 2 per year to an average of nearly 3 per day. This now makes Oklahoma the most seismically active of the lower forty-eight states. It’s highly likely that this dramatic rise in earthquake occurrence is largely a consequence of human actions. Along with the increase in seismicity, Oklahoma has seen a growth in its oil and natural gas operations since 2008, specifically hydraulic fracturing (often referred to as “hydrofracking” or “fracking”) and the disposal of wastewater via deep well injection.

A number of states that have increased wastewater injection activity have seen increases in the number of induced earthquakes, the study said, but the reason for such a large increase in Oklahoma is still unclear. Because of the large amount of crude oil storage in the Cushing area, strong shaking is worrisome and has led some to proclaim that induced earthquakes are a national security threat.

According to AIR-Worldwide, it is not clear whether the occurrences of the small and intermediate size earthquakes being seen, and the stress changes from wastewater disposal could trigger larger and more damaging earthquakes. As a precaution, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission ordered four new Arbuckle disposal wells to be shut and 10 to reduce their volume by 25%. In Osage County, 32 wells will have reduced volume.

Experts believe limiting injection volumes is helpful because of the link between high-volume injection and earthquakes, but Swiss Re’s report concluded that while, most companies participate in the suggested reductions following a detected earthquake, economic pressure to continue wastewater injection often prevails. “Changing regulations, and how the oil and gas industry respond, remain the biggest contributor to uncertainty of how the risk will change in the future,” Swiss Re said.