Abstract

Recent studies have presented evidence that early to mid‐twentieth‐century earthquakes in Oklahoma and Texas were likely induced by fossil fuel production and/or injection of wastewater (Hough and Page, 2015; Frohlich et al., 2016). Considering seismicity from 1935 onward, Hauksson et al. (2015) concluded that there is no evidence for significant induced activity in the greater Los Angeles region between 1935 and the present. To explore a possible association between earthquakes prior to 1935 and oil and gas production, we first revisit the historical catalog and then review contemporary oil industry activities. Although early industry activities did not induce large numbers of earthquakes, we present evidence for an association between the initial oil boom in the greater Los Angeles area and earthquakes between 1915 and 1932, including the damaging 22 June 1920 Inglewood and 8 July 1929 Whittier earthquakes. We further consider whether the 1933 Mw 6.4 Long Beach earthquake might have been induced, and show some evidence that points to a causative relationship between the earthquake and activities in the Huntington Beach oil field. The hypothesis that the Long Beach earthquake was either induced or triggered by an foreshock cannot be ruled out. Our results suggest that significant earthquakes in southern California during the early twentieth century might have been associated with industry practices that are no longer employed (i.e., production without water reinjection), and do not necessarily imply a high likelihood of induced earthquakes at the present time.

Online Material: Summary of background information about the Wilmington oil field, information about revisited earthquakes between 1900 and 1935, tables of felt events, and accounts of three earthquakes.

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