Abstract

Evidence for fluid‐injection‐induced seismicity is rare in California hydrocarbon basins, despite widespread injection close to seismically active faults. We investigate a potential case of injection‐induced earthquakes associated with San Ardo oilfield operations that began in the early 1950s. The largest potentially induced events occurred in 1955 (ML 5.2) and 1985 (Mw 4.5) within 6  km from the oilfield. We analyze Synthetic Aperture Radar interferometric images acquired by Sentinel‐1A/B satellites between 2016 and 2020 and find surface deformation of up to 1.5  cm/yr, indicating pressure‐imbalance in parts of the oilfield. Fluid injection in San Ardo is concentrated within highly permeable rocks directly above the granitic basement at a depth of 800  m. Seismicity predominantly occurs along basement faults at 6–13 km depths. Seismicity and wastewater disposal wells are spatially correlated to the north of the oilfield. Temporal correlations are observed over more than 40 yr with correlation coefficients of up to 0.71 for seismicity within a 24 km distance from the oilfield. Such large distances have not previously been observed in California but are similar to the large spatial footprint of injection in Oklahoma. The San Ardo seismicity shows anomalous clustering with earthquakes consistently occurring at close spatial proximity but long interevent times. Similar clustering has previously been reported in California geothermal fields and may be indicative of seismicity driven by long‐term, spatially persistent external forcing.

The complexity of seismic behavior at San Ardo suggests that multiple processes, such as elastic stress transfer and aseismic slip transients, contribute to the potentially induced earthquakes. The present observations show that fluid‐injection operations occur close to seismically active faults in California. Yet, seismicity is predominantly observed on smaller unmapped faults with little observational evidence that large faults are sensitive to induced stress changes.

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