Abstract

Microearthquake activity at The Geysers geothermal area, California, mirrors the steam production rate, suggesting that the earthquakes are industrially induced. A 15-station network of digital, three-component seismic stations was operated for one month in 1991, and 3,900 earthquakes were recorded. Highly-accurate moment tensors were derived for 30 of the best recorded earthquakes by tracing rays through tomographically derived 3-D V p and V p /V s structures, and inverting P- and S-wave polarities and amplitude ratios. The orientations of the P- and T-axes are very scattered, suggesting that there is no strong, systematic deviatoric stress field in the reservoir, which could explain why the earthquakes are not large. Most of the events had significant non-double-couple (non-DC) components in their source mechanisms with volumetric components up to approximately 30% of the total moment. Explosive and implosive sources were observed in approximately equal numbers, and must be caused by cavity creation (or expansion) and collapse. It is likely that there is a causal relationship between these processes and fluid reinjection and steam withdrawal. Compensated linear vector dipole (CLVD) components were up to 100% of the deviatoric component. Combinations of opening cracks and shear faults cannot explain all the observations, and rapid fluid flow may also be involved. The pattern of non-DC failure at The Geysers contrasts with that of the Hengill-Grensdalur area in Iceland, a largely unexploited water-dominated field in an extensional stress regime. These differences are poorly understood but may be linked to the contrasting regional stress regimes and the industrial exploitation at The Geysers.

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