USGS Study: Oil drilling may have caused 1933 California 6.4M Long Beach earthquake that killed about 120 people and caused massive damages. “There may be no upper limit” to the size of earthquakes caused by the oil industry

Southern California’s deadliest quake may have been caused by oil drilling, study says by Rong-Gong Lin II, October 31, 2016, LA Times


Damage from 1933 Long Beach earthquake

On a March evening in 1933, the Newport-Inglewood fault ruptured violently along the Huntington Beach coast. The quake brought down scores of buildings from Santa Ana to Compton, with Long Beach hit particularly hard.

The Long Beach quake, the deadliest in Southern California history, focused attention like never before on the seismic dangers the region faces.

But a new study suggests that the quake may have been caused by another factor: Deep drilling in an oil field in Huntington Beach.

The study, written by two leading U.S. Geological Survey scientists in Pasadena and to be published in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America on Tuesday, also suggests that three other earthquakes, including magnitude 5.0 earthquakes in 1920 in Inglewood and in 1929 in Whittier, may also be linked to oil drilling.

The two government scientists, Susan Hough and Morgan Page, wrote the report after a review of nearly forgotten state oil drilling records. They discovered that the epicenter of some of the Los Angeles Basin’s largest earthquakes between 1900 and 1935 happened shortly after significant changes were made in oil production in nearby fields. During this era, the Los Angeles area was one of the world’s leading oil producers.

“It was kind of more of a Wild West industry back a hundred years ago, and the technology wasn’t as sophisticated,” Hough said. “People would just pump oil, and in some cases the ground would subside — fairly dramatically.” That possibly changed stresses on underground rock that could have pushed earthquake faults to rupture.

The report’s finding does not mean that oil drilling is causing earthquakes in Southern California today.

The study only focused on earthquakes between 1900 and 1935. Different scientists have looked at earthquakes during more recent decades and have not found any reason to blame oil production for triggering earthquakes more recently in the L.A. Basin.

The reason could be that oil drilling practices in the basin have changed dramatically since the years when oil was first discovered in this region, and today’s techniques may be safer and thus unlikely to trigger earthquakes as they might have done long ago.

Nowadays, water is carefully [???] used to replace the pumped-out oil, which prevents land from sinking and helps extract more oil.

Most important, by keeping the pressure on the fault balanced, there would be less of a chance of disturbing the fault to rupture earlier than expected.

“It is … probable that changes to industry practices have largely mitigated the hazard,” Page, the coauthor, said in an email.

Besides, “since the aftershocks of the 1933 Long Beach earthquake died out, the L.A. Basin has been relatively quiet seismically compared to the early 20th century,” Page added.

The Long Beach earthquake killed about 120 people and caused major damage throughout the region. Its epicenter was in Huntington Beach, which became home to the largest known deposit of oil in California when it was first tapped in the 1920s.

The idea that human activity can trigger damaging earthquakes has become widely discussed amid the sudden increase in significant earthquakes in Oklahoma.


The Huntington Beach coastline in 1940 was a forest of oil derricks. (Ted Hurley)

Scientists there have linked the dramatic rise in earthquakes in Oklahoma to the injection of wastewater underground, done after an oil production technique known as fracking.

By shooting this wastewater thousands of feet into the ground, it can set off earthquakes on faults that haven’t moved in a long time. The injection pumps wastewater into areas where oil has not been extracted, so stress underground increases.

While the injection of wastewater has become controversial, the practice has not caused earthquakes everywhere.

Despite very large volumes of fluids being disposed of in North Dakota, that state has not had the human-induced earthquakes that Oklahoma has experienced.

Scientists don’t believe that wastewater injection — or oil production in general — is causing earthquakes in the L.A. Basin. A study last year found no obvious connection between oil production and earthquakes in the basin after 1935, around the time modern seismic sensing equipment was developed.

“If the Los Angeles Basin were like Oklahoma today, we would know about it. We’re obviously not inducing magnitude 5 earthquakes on a regular basis,” Hough said.

A different study published in February, however, that focused on California’s San Joaquin Valley did identify some earthquakes in 2005 that had a significant chance of being induced by an oil company’s injection of wastewater underground. 

Further understanding what is and isn’t a problem would help make petroleum extraction operations safer. If there is something humans are doing that is causing problems, Hough said, “then it’s a hazard that we can potentially manage.” [Or not, but we’re going to help – especially via deregulation – industry keep destroying communities and people?]

The idea behind the study came up after Hough stumbled across old state reports on oil field operations that precisely identify where drilling happened. She found that there was notable drilling activity very close to the epicenter of the Long Beach earthquake that had begun just nine months before the temblor.

So Hough and Page identified five earthquakes in Southern California between 1900 and 1933 that were magnitude 5 and above. One was offshore west of Santa Monica, and there was no evidence it was linked with oil production.


The ruins of Compton Junior High School in Compton after a massive earthquake struck on March 10, 1933.


The ruins of John Muir School in Long Beach after a massive earthquake struck in 1933.

But for the other four earthquakes — in 1920, 1929, 1930 and 1933 — the epicenter was no more than a few miles away from where there was notable oil drilling in the three to nine months before the earth shook.

In the case of the 1933 Long Beach earthquake, the scientists discovered that the seismic event occurred after an oil well that wasn’t producing much petroleum was drilled much deeper. Suddenly, it was producing far more oil.

Something similar was observed before the 1929 earthquake. “And again, if you look at where the production was concentrated … it was essentially smack on top of where the earthquake was centered,” Hough said.

One promising implication of the study is that, if true, the L.A. Basin is not as naturally seismically active as it’s currently believed to be, if the earthquakes were caused by oil extraction processes that are no longer used.

In other words: “Maybe geologically, the L.A. Basin could be safer than we have thought. It’s a possibility, at least,” Hough said.

The bad news? It could mean that humans can cause more damaging earthquakes than some previously thought were possible.

Previously, some scientists speculated that human-induced earthquakes had a limit at close to magnitude 6, since that’s what has been observed in Oklahoma. But if human activity induced the 6.4 Long Beach earthquake, then it raises the possibility that there may be no upper limit.

[Questerre CEO Michael Binnion Check:

Questerre Energy Says Fracking Causes Tiny Earthquakes ]


[Home sweet home]

A home that fell victim to earth slippage in San Clemente after a massive earthquake struck on March 10, 1933.

Caltech seismology professor Jean Paul Ampuero, who was not affiliated with Tuesday’s study, called the report “a nice piece of seismological detective work.”

Still, because the earthquakes cover a period where modern seismic sensors did not exist, it is inherently more speculative than a study of more modern earthquakes, Ampuero said. “It’s probably the best you can do with the data that’s available today from that period.”


7 p.m.: This article was updated with a quote from Caltech seismology professor Jean Paul Ampuero, details of a study published in February that identified earthquakes in the San Joaquin Valley in 2005 as having a significant chance of being induced by an oil company’s injection of wastewater into the ground, and historical context of Huntington Beach as a major producer of oil in Southern California. [Emphasis added]

Oil drilling may have caused deadly 1933 California quake, study by U.S. Geological Survey suggests by Alicia Chang, The Associated Press, November 1, 2016, Calgary Herald

LOS ANGELES — New research suggests oil drilling decades ago may have triggered earthquakes in the Los Angeles region, including the 1933 quake that killed more than 100 people.

If confirmed, it would be the first time oil operations have been linked to a deadly quake in the United States.

Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) combed through historical records and identified several quakes in the 1920s and 1930s that were potentially caused by industry activities, including the 1933 magnitude 6.4 jolt that struck the port city of Long Beach.

Until now, “we pretty much assumed that earthquakes in the L.A. area are natural and that induced earthquakes are either not happening or not significant,” said USGS seismologist Sue Hough, who led the study.

Drilling techniques have changed through the decades so the findings don’t necessarily point to a current risk. A separate study last year by a team at USGS and the California Institute of Technology found no significant evidence of human-caused quakes in the L.A. region after 1935.

Manmade quakes have been in the spotlight after a sharp uptick in seismic activity in Oklahoma and Texas. Studies have linked the spike to the practice of injecting leftover wastewater into the ground after drilling for oil and gas using newer technologies such as hydraulic fracturing. The induced quakes have rattled nerves and caused property damage, but no deaths.

Southern California’s oil boom was sparked in 1892 when oil was discovered near what would become the site of Dodger Stadium, north of downtown L.A. After tapping the wells dry, drillers headed to points south, including Santa Fe Springs, Inglewood, Torrance and Long Beach.

In the study, Hough and colleague Morgan Page pieced together a list of quakes between 1915 and the early 1930s, and reviewed oil permits and drilling operations during that time period. They found 13 cases of shaking that may have been caused by oil production ramping up.

The Long Beach quake hit not long after operators began drilling wells at different angles, the researchers said. Some 115 people died and many schools collapsed, spurring new laws requiring stricter building standards for new schools and the retrofitting of old ones.

The findings appear in Tuesday’s edition of the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America.

“They have certainly raised the possibility that these earthquakes could have been induced, but it’s difficult with the lack of observations to definitively say these were induced earthquakes,” said Bill Barnhart, an assistant professor of geophysics at the University of Iowa who had no role in the research.

Deadly quakes triggered by oil and gas drilling are rare. In 1984, a magnitude 7 quake in Uzbekistan linked to gas extraction killed one person and injured 100.

Oil-recovery techniques have changed through the years. In the early 20th century, oil was sucked out of the ground, and that sometimes caused the ground to sink. Beginning in the 1940s, operators would flood water into reservoirs to drive out oil.

Earlier this year, Cliff Frohlich, a senior research scientist at the University of Texas at Austin, found that human-caused quakes from oil and gas operations in Texas have been happening since 1925, much earlier than previously thought. In recent years, the increased shaking in Texas has been linked to the injection of wastewater deep underground.

The possible connection between past L.A. quakes and oil activity sounds “plausible” and should be investigated further, said Frohlich, who was not part of the latest study. [Emphasis added]

Oil Drilling Could Have Caused Early 20th Century SoCal Quakes, Report Says by Richard Nemec, November 1, 2016, Natural Gas Intel

Some earthquakes in Southern California in the early 20th century, including a temblor that killed 120 people in Long Beach, could have been caused by oil drilling in the area, according to a report by two U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) geologists in Pasadena, CA, that was published Tuesday.

Susan Hough and Morgan Page reviewed historic geological and oil drilling records for the first four decades of the last century, doing geologic detective work to potentially link the deadly 6.4-magnitude 1933 Long Beach quake to deep drilling in an oilfield in nearby Huntington Beach, CA, according to a report published in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America.

The Long Beach quake hit not long after operators began drilling wells at different angles, the researchers found. They said the historic findings don’t necessarily indicate any current risks in the region today from oil/natural gas drilling, because drilling technology has changed substantially since the 1930s.

Last year, another study by a different team of scientists at USGS and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) found no significant evidence of human-caused quakes in the greater Los Angeles area after 1935.

Until now, “we pretty much assumed that earthquakes in the L.A. area are natural and that induced earthquakes are either not happening or not significant,” said Hough, who led the latest study.

Caltech seismology professor Jean Paul Ampuero characterized the Hough/Page study of past quakes as “a nice piece of seismological detective work,” in a report in Tuesday’s Los Angeles Times. He confirmed that the results are “speculative” because there were no modern seismic sensors in place in the period of the early 20th Century quakes.

Hough and Page assessed a series of quakes between 1915 and the early 1930s, tying in oil permits and drilling operations during that same time period. They discovered 13 cases of shaking that they concluded may have been caused by the ramping up of oil production.

Their work comes at a time when other USGS scientists have concluded that the injection of wastewater as part of the post-hydraulic fracturing (fracking) process in Oklahoma has contributed to a spate of quake swarms in the state in recent years (see Shale Daily, July 5). Seismologists have found no evidence of anything like that happening in Southern California, which was one of the world’s major oil basins in the first half of the 20th Century.

Wastewater injection and fracking in other major shale plays, such as the Bakken in North Dakota, has not stimulated increased quake activity in those states.

Earlier this year a University of Texas and Southern Methodist University study found oil and gas activities over the past four decades are probably linked to at least 59% of induced earthquakes in Texas (see Shale Daily, May 18).

While the latest study could not be conclusive about a link between drilling and the historic Southern California quakes, it raises the possibility and should be further researched, according to independent scientists in the field, such as Frohlich and Bill Barnhart, assistant professor of geophysics at the University of Iowa.

[Refer also to:

2016 09 21: US EPA Takes Frac Deregulation to the Extreme: California and EPA Poised to Increase Oil and Gas Waste Injection into Protected Aquifers, Even as Need for Safe Groundwater Grows

2016 09 08: Pawnee earthquake upgraded to magnitude 5.8 from 5.6; 2011 earthquake near Prague upgraded to 5.7 from 5.6

2016 08 20: groningen gas field induced earthquakes: Did industry intentionally set up their study to be too small so as to escape paying homeowners the billions of dollars in damages the court ordered paid?

2016 06 27: California: Another new study proving oil and gas companies are fracing freshwater formations: “As many as one of every five oil and gas projects occurs in underground sources of fresh water”

2016 03 23: New Study: Toxicity of acidization fluids used in California oil exploration raise water contamination and public-safety concerns

2016 02 05: First research links Californian quakes to oil operations. Is that why it took so many decades for such research to be done?

2016 01 05: NINE STUDIES: US Geological Survey (USGS), University Colorado (UC), Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS), Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory (LBNL) studied sudden man-made earthquakes in Oklahoma, California, Pennsylvania, Ohio, found fracing is the causation

2015 12 01: “Abnormally dangerous and ultra hazardous activity.” Did TRC or Chevron’s fracing kill Robert David Taylor? What happened to California regulators’ vows to make steam injections safer? “Safer?” Why not make it “safe?”

2015 09 08: Netherlands court orders Shell & Exxon Mobil to pay 100,000 homeowners billions of dollars in quake damages

2015 07 10: In California, Big Oil finds water is its most prized commodity. Isn’t it everywhere in the world, where there is still some?

2015 07 06: Hell Called … They want their ‘Salad Dressing’ Back: California farmers use oil firms’ waste to irrigate food. “There has been a gentleman’s agreement to promote deregulation”

2015 02 20: Quakes in Gas Fields Ignored for Years, Dutch Safety Agency’s report a relevant read for any fracking zone; Fox Creek frac quakes make AER play deregulation with you and your loved ones: “Red Light = Green Light”

2014 11 28: 100,000 Netherlands Homes Harmed by Natural Gas Extraction, Over 700 private homeowners and 12 Groningen housing corporations suing Netherlands Petroleum Company (NAM)

2013 07 08: Earthquakes from onshore gas drilling threaten a disaster, warn residents of Dutch city, Residents of the Dutch city of Groningen are up in arms over onshore gas drilling that has triggered earthquakes, damaging homes and sending property prices crashing

2000 04 01: Seismicity in the Oil Field

The gas field was discovered in 1956 and production began in 1962. Over the next 14 years, roughly 600×106 m3 of water, or 106 ton per km2, were injected. …

Beginning in 1976, a series of large earthquakes was recorded. The first significant earthquake occurred on April 8, 1976 at a distance of 20 km [12 miles] from the Gazli gasfield boundary. The earthquake magnitude measured 6.8. Just 39 days later, on May 17, 1976, another severe earthquake occurred 27 km [17 miles] to the west of the first one. The magnitude of the second earthquake was 7.3. Eight years later, on March 20, 1984, a third earthquake occurred 15 km [9miles] to the west of the second earthquake, with a magnitude of 7.2. … Aftershocks occurred in a volume surrounding the three hypocentres. These earthquakes are the strongest of all the known earthquakes in the plain of Central Asia. …

There was no clear relationship between the location of the earthquake hypocenters and any previously known active tectonic structures.

Closer investigation showed that the earthquakes had created new faults.

… In all these cases, the result of human interference was to change the state of stress in the surrounding volume of earth. If the stress change is big enough, it can cause an earthquake, either by fracturing the rock mass—in the case of mining or underground explosions—or by causing rock to slip along existing zones of weakness.

The situation in regions of hydrocarbon recovery is not always well understood: in some places, extraction of fluid induces seismicity; in others, injection induces seismicity.

Even minor actions can trigger strong seismicity.

… The amassed data indicate that the Gazli earthquakes were triggered by the exploitation of the gas field. ]

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