An objective method for the assessment of fluid injection-induced seismicity and application to tectonically active regions in central California


Changes in seismicity rates, whether of tectonic or of induced origin, can readily be identified in regions where background rates are low but are difficult to detect in seismically active regions. We present a novel method to identify likely induced seismicity in tectonically active regions based on short-range spatiotemporal correlations between changes in fluid injection and seismicity rates. The method searches through the entire parameter space of injection rate thresholds and determines the statistical significance of correlated changes in injection and seismicity rates. Applying our method to Kern County, central California, we find that most earthquakes within the region are tectonic; however, fluid injection contributes to seismicity in four different cases. Three of these are connected to earthquake sequences with events above M4. Each of these sequences followed an abrupt increase in monthly injection rates of at least 15,000 m3. The probability that the seismicity sequences and the abrupt changes in injection rates in Kern County coincide by chance is only 4%. The identified earthquake sequences display low Gutenberg-Richter b values of ∼0.6-0.7 and at times systematic migration patterns characteristic for a diffusive process. Our results show that injection-induced pressure perturbations can influence seismic activity at distances of 10 km or more. Triggering of earthquakes at these large distances may be facilitated by complex local geology and faults in tectonically active regions. Our study provides the first comprehensive, statistically robust assessment of likely injection-induced seismicity within a large, tectonically active region.

Publication Title

Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth