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September 22, 2016

Study finds that wastewater injections cause man-made earthquakes, but the risk can be reduced through monitoring

Injecting wastewater deep underground as a byproduct of oil and gas extraction techniques that include fracking causes man-made earthquakes, the lead author of new research from Arizona State University said Thursday.

The study, which also showed that the risk can be mitigated, has the potential to transform oil and gas industry practices, ASU geophysicist Manoochehr Shirzaei said, calling the findings “very groundbreaking” and “very new.”

“It’s a hot topic” because “injection and fracking is extremely important in terms of jobs, money and independence,” Shirzaei, an assistant professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, said.

The technique to extract oil and gas from rock using a high-pressure mix of water, sand or gravel and chemicals produces lots of wastewater, he said. This wastewater is disposed of through underground injections that “have led to an increase in earthquakes across the United States,” he said.

“So now the goal, the scope of every scientist across the U.S.A., and maybe abroad, is to make that injection safer” by “reducing the number of earthquakes as much as we can,” he said, explaining why the research was done.  

Shirzaei was careful to say that the injection of wastewater can come from processes associated with oil and gas extraction other than hydraulic fracturing. 

He said the study, published in the journal Science, shows that researchers can estimate how much pressure is increasing underground, providing a chance for wastewater injections to be halted before the buildup reaches a critical stage. The pressure, he said, eventually returns to normal, allowing the injections to resume. 

Shirzaei said he already has plans to present the findings to state and industry leaders in Texas and Colorado. He said that no one from the oil and gas industry has seen the work because researchers wanted to maintain their independence. 

The research could help reduce quakes like those felt recently in east Texas, which hasn’t experienced such seismic activity historically. In May 2012, a 4.8 magnitude quake hit Timpson — the largest ever monitored in the region. Several more temblors hit the area over the next 16 months.

The quakes marked a significant increase in east Texas and in areas of the U.S. where unprecedented volumes of wastewater are being shot into deep geological formations.

About 2 billion gallons of wastewater get injected underground every day into about 180,000 disposal wells in the U.S., mainly in Texas, California, Oklahoma and Kansas, according to the official news release.

For the study, Shirzaei and co-authors William Ellsworth of Stanford University, Kristy Tiampo of the University of Colorado Boulder, Pablo González of the University of Liverpool (UK), and Michael Manga of UC Berkeley focused on four high-volume wells used for disposing wastewater near the epicenter for the Timpson, Texas, earthquake, the release said. 

ALOS L-band satellite
ALOS L-band satellite. Courtesy of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

The researchers used space-borne Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR), a remote satellite-based sensing technique, to measure the surface uplift of the area near the wells, the release said.

“Monitoring surface deformation using these remote sensing techniques is a proactive approach to managing the hazards associated with fluid injection, and can help in earthquake forecasting,” Shirzaei said, according to the release. “Our study reports on the first observations of surface uplift associated with wastewater injection.”

The researchers then calculated the strain and pore pressure underneath the wells that resulted in the uplift and, in turn, triggered the earthquakes, the release said. The research found that seismic activity increased, even when water injection rates declined, due to pore pressure continuing to diffuse throughout the area from earlier injections, the release said.

illustration showing pressure increase in earth
Satellites measuring surface uplift near the injection wells. Colored circles show pore pressure increase at the location of the earthquake. Injection wells are shown in red with injection depth indicated in blue bars.

InSAR uses a highly accurate radar to measure the change in distance between the satellite and ground surface, allowing the team to show that injecting water into the wells at high pressure caused ground uplift near the shallower wells, the release said.

In addition, the data show less seismic activity in denser rock where pore pressure was prevented from disseminating into basement rock, helping to explain why injection can, but does not always, cause earthquakes, the release said.

By integrating seismic data, injected water histories, and geological and hydrogeological information with surface deformation observations, the researchers have provided a definitive link between wastewater injection and earthquake activity in Texas, helping explain why injection causes earthquakes in some places and not others, the release said.

“This research opens new possibilities for the operation of wastewater disposal wells in ways that could reduce earthquake hazards,” Shirzaei said, in the release.

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Top photo: Damage from Timpson, Texas earthquake on May 17, 2012. Courtesy of Timpson and Tenaha News.

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Thunderbird brings together group in India after red tape prevents U.S. visit.
September 22, 2016

Project Artemis teaches entrepreneurial skills after solving last-minute visa issue

It’s a perfect Thunderbird scenario: If red tape gets in the way of success, use your global connections to cut through it.

That’s what a team at the Thunderbird School of Global Management did last month when it harnessed the power of the school’s formidable alumni network to hastily pull together a crash course that teaches business skills to Afghan women. The entrepreneurial venture, called Project Artemis, was supposed to gather the women at the Glendale campus last spring but was thwarted by visa problems.

So instead, the team found a new home for Project Artemis in India — with 10 weeks’ notice. Twelve women from Afghanistan traveled to India and spent 16 days learning how to grow and market their businesses.

“It was truly inspired to see the women at work,” said Vijay Jangiti, who earned a degree at Thunderbird in 1988 and has remained an active alumni in India. He helped to set up some of the activities.

“It was indeed busy — attending to conference calls and getting logistics in place, but the alumni were very satisfied and happy to help.”

After several successful years, the last-minute visa snafu was deeply disappointing for Wynona Heim, the client director for Project Artemis, and the rest of the team.

“We went back to the drawing board and said, ‘OK, we’re Thunderbird, we’re flexible — where can we get them where we have resources?’ “

They initially tried to relocate Project Artemis to Thunderbird’s campus in Geneva. But right after that decision was made in March, terrorists attacked the airport and a train station in Brussels, Belgium, and the visa process was again sent into disarray. The staff then considered Moscow, Dubai, Turkey, Kenya and China before settling on India.

“India and Afghanistan have been fostering strong trade ties, and they actually put a new treaty into place while we were there,” Heim said.

“And the final and biggest piece was that Thunderbird has a huge alumni network in India that’s still active, and they were thrilled to have us come.”

Project Artemis was founded in 2005 after former Thunderbird trustee Barbara Barrett, who later served as U.S. ambassador to Finland and Thunderbird's interim president, came up with the idea while touring Afghanistan in 2004 as a member of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council. The project, funded by donations and grants, is part of Thunderbird for Good, an umbrella for the school’s outreach to non-traditional students around the world.

Heim said that the Afghan entrepreneurs who participate in Project Artemis have a higher socioeconomic status and more independence from male dominance than most women in their country, but by learning how to grow their businesses, they are able to hire poor women.

“They understand the cultural barriers, and they are the ones who can go into the poorest neighborhoods and say, ‘I have a job for your wife or daughter that is safe and appropriate.’ “

This year’s class of Afghan women in Project Artemis ranged in age from 22 to 52, and their businesses included carpet weaving, saffron cultivation, tailoring, mushroom production and wood carving as well as ownership of a radio station, a private school and a construction company. Some women owned several businesses, including one who imports oil and wheat and also owns a gym.

The trip was immediately practical for the women, some of whom made connections for suppliers or signed contracts in India. They learned about marketing, human resources, supply chain, investment and other business skills through panel discussions and networking events. Classes were taught by Thunderbird professors Steven Stralser and Mary Sully de Luque.

At one event, a Thunderbird alumni and the woman who owns a construction company were chatting, haltingly, in English, Heim said.

“Then the Afghan woman mentioned that she had gone to school in Kazakhstan and they immediately switched to speaking in Russian,” Heim said.

“It was one of those cross-cultural things that is such a Thunderbird moment.”

 

Top photo: Female business owners from Afghanistan and staff from the Thunderbird School of Global Management spent 16 days in India for Project Artemis.

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now

480-727-4503