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Seismicity

Induced seismicity is a complex and developing science that requires multidisciplinary skills, to not only locate earthquakes, but also demonstrate causation from manmade sources.

The topic of induced seismicity has gained more attention over the past few years. In some instances, due to unique geologic conditions, oil and gas operations may trigger seismic activity. Such operations may include reservoir depletion, wastewater disposal injection and in uncommon situations, hydraulic fracturing. We recognize the issue of oil and gas operations inducing seismicity is a matter of public concern. No matter the cause — natural or human induced — local communities have concerns about seismic activity in their area.

We support risk management and mitigation approaches that consider various mitigation methods for the relative risks in a given context, including the assessment of factors such as fluid volumes, formation character, tectonic setting, operating experience and local construction standards, and regulatory attention and response.

We follow a disciplined injection well siting protocol, which uses available data, including federal, state or internal seismic information, to conduct a risk assessment prior to siting a disposal well. Some government agencies closely monitor low-level seismicity and mitigate seismicity risk during development with operational “traffic light” systems.

We believe it is important to gain a better understanding of all types and sources of seismic activity. By supporting research at universities, cooperating with governmental agencies and conducting our own research, we are contributing to developing a better understanding of seismicity. We believe having a science-based risk management approach is an essential foundation for evaluating events and avoiding adverse effects of seismicity. In addition, ExxonMobil has been strengthening its risk management systems related to this challenge and proactively sharing our findings with local communities, academia and regulators.

In 2015, ExxonMobil provided technical leadership to States First — a multi-state initiative aimed at facilitating innovative regulatory solutions for oil and natural gas producing states — for its  induced seismicity working group’s primer on potential injection-induced seismicity associated with oil and gas development. Specifically, the primer provides guidance on evaluating risks associated with induced seismicity from wastewater disposal wells and helps regulatory agencies develop strategies for managing and mitigating risks. Research findings for the primer indicate that risk management, risk mitigation and response strategies are most effective when specific local geologic conditions and operational situations are considered. Accordingly, the primer does not recommend specific policies, emphasizing that a one-size fits all regulatory scheme would not be flexible enough to account for area-specific risks and concerns.

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