Abstract

While recent investigations of induced earthquakes have focused on earthquakes associated with wastewater injection and unconventional recovery methods, the potential for earthquakes to be induced by primary production has long been recognized. We use boundary element methods to quantify the predicted geometry and amplitude of stress and strain changes associated with removal of large volumes of fluids in poroelastic reservoirs, focusing on the Los Angeles Basin (LA Basin) in California. We show that significant stress perturbations (upward of 0.1 MPa), while localized, typically extended several kilometers away from production horizons by the early 1940s. By this time, production horizons in the southwestern LA Basin were 2–4 km deep; models thus predict that stress conditions would have been perturbed significantly on faults at the upper edge of the seismogenic brittle crust, typically around 6 km. Predicted stress and strain changes associated with oil fields in the southwestern LA Basin during the first half of the 20th century, combined with stress changes caused by the 1933 Long Beach earthquake, could plausibly have induced a number of moderate-to-large earthquakes between 1932 and 1944. The rate of earthquakes in the southwestern LA Basin has been significantly lower since 1945 than it was for the three decades prior to 1945. We conclude that while decreasing production and pore-pressure reduction contributed to the initial decline, the continued decline was due in part to the advent of widespread water-flooding methods that maintained subsurface reservoir pressures.

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