ABSTRACT

High‐pressure fluid injection into a subhorizontal confined aquifer at 4.3–4.6 km depth induced >7000 earthquakes between 1991 and 2012 within once seismically quiescent Paradox Valley in Colorado, with magnitudes up to Mw 3.9. Earthquake hypocenters expanded laterally away from the well with time, defining the margins of the aquifer pressurized by injection at the well. Within 5 km of the well, alignment of earthquake hypocenters defines strikes of nine vertical fault zones. Previous studies show that these fault zones predate injection, producing left‐stepping offsets in the normal faults of the Wray‐Mesa fault system that cradles Paradox Valley. Hypocenters, rakes, and strikes of 2041 well‐constrained focal mechanisms show that most injection‐related earthquakes occur where these vertical faults intersect the pressurized aquifer. Well‐defined focal mechanisms show that this induced seismicity consists of Riedel shear faults at acute angles to the strikes of these fault zones. These small faults develop an anastomosing fault structure of focal planes along each planar fault zone, as fluid injection continues, even as their hypocenters define a single planar fault zone. Failure conditions at each hypocenter are found using a fully coupled poroelastic analysis of stress induced by fluid injection, and this analysis indicates a minimum Coulomb failure condition of 0.1 MPa. This failure condition is primarily a result of aquifer pore‐fluid pressurization, as almost all well‐located seismicity is within the pressurized aquifer. Reducing the rate of injection and frequent well shutdowns in the second decade nearly eliminated induced seismicity, except very near the well where gradients in pressurization are the largest. Despite these decreases in failure conditions and seismicity, some fault zones continued to produce earthquakes larger than M 3 as injection continued.

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