A third element in the modeling is to include any deformation of the ground level. This is usually hard to measure because the effects are small and spread over a wide area. However, the use of interferometric synthetic-aperture radar (InSAR) data from orbit allows precise measurement of millimeter-scale uplifts over areas that are miles across.

Shirzaei explains, "We are looking to correlate injected wastewater quantities, measured deformation, and previous seismic activity to develop a model that can predict the likely effects of brine injection activity in a given area."

Because extraction of oil and gas is so important to a modern economy, Shirzaei expects the study will benefit a variety of stakeholders.

"The general public is the most important because they may be exposed to potential injury and damage," he said. The list also includes oil and gas producers, brine injection companies and geothermal energy providers.

"In addition, we expect the study will benefit land-management, regulatory, and permitting agencies," Shirzaei said. "Plus emergency managers and responders, building owners, insurers, mortgage holders and research scientists."

Robert Burnham

Science writer, School of Earth and Space Exploration

480-458-8207