Fox Creek Fracking Operation Closed Indefinitely After Earthquake
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CBC News

A hydraulic fracturing operation near Fox Creek, Alta., has been shut down after an earthquake hit the area Tuesday.

The magnitude 4.8 quake was reported at 11:27 a.m., says Alberta Energy Regulator, which ordered the shutdown of the Repsol Oil & Gas site 35 kilometres north of Fox Creek.

Carrie Rosa, spokeswoman for the regulator, says "the company has ceased operations … and they will not be allowed to resume operations until we have approved their plans."

Rosa added the company is working with the energy regulator to ensure all environmental and safety rules are followed.

In a statement, Repsol confirmed the seismic event and said the company was conducting hydraulic fracturing operations at the time it happened.

"Repsol immediately shut down operations and reported the event to the AER and other local authorities," the statement said.

"The company is investigating the event, which includes reviewing and analyzing available geological and geophysical data, as well as the onsite seismic monitoring data. Operations will not resume at this location until a full assessment of the event has been completed and approval has been received from the AER."

There were no reports of injuries or damage to the site, Rosa said.

The energy regulator automatically shuts down a fracking site when an earthquake hits a magnitude of 4.0 or higher in the area in which a company is operating.

"It's too soon to tell if it's related to fracking," said Camille Brillon, a seismologist with Natural Resources Canada. "It was a light earthquake that would have been felt."

Earthquake 'larger than normal'

Brillon added the quake was "quite large for the area, larger than normal."

Jeffrey Gu, associate professor of geophysics at the University of Alberta, said the area surrounding Fox Creek has been experiencing a proliferation of quakes lately.

He estimates in the last six months there have been hundreds of quakes in the area ranging in magnitude from 2.0 to 3.0.

But it is not considered a risky area with a such low population, said Gu, who added that Fox Creek and the surrounding region is carefully monitored by the energy regulator.

"There are faults in this area that have been mapped, have been reported in that area, but nothing of significance," he said.

"It's a relatively safe area without major, major faults."

Still, Gu said, there were two fairly large quakes in the area in January 2015, one of which had a magnitude of 4.4.

He wasn't able to confirm that they were caused by fracking, but said it is "highly probable."

The energy regulator said at the time that the 4.4 magnitude quake was likely caused by hydraulic fracturing.

The previous large quake near Fox Creek occurred on June 13, with a magnitude initially measured as 4.4. After some investigation the magnitude was set at 3.9, Gu said.

Could be largest quake in Canada

If it is revealed that fracking induced Tuesday's 4.8 quake, Gu said, it would be the largest such quake in Canada's history.

A 4.6 magnitude fracking-related earthquake in B.C. in August was confirmed by scientists as the largest so far in Canada, perhaps even the world.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said her officials are looking into Tuesday's quake.

"The AER has been engaged in a review of fracking, in particular as it relates to this issue, and I'll be asking them to speed that review … to come up with some recommendations that we can consider sooner than later."

Area resident Jesse Christensen was in Fox Creek at the time of the quake.

"We were all just kind of standing around … and everybody just looked at each other and said, 'Did you feel that?'

"It didn't feel uneasy or anything," he said. "It was just like some shaking through your feet a little bit, but not too much."

Fox Creek, 263 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, is a town of about 2,000 people largely sustained by oil and gas development.

Fox Creek mayor concerned by oilpatch impacts after earthquake

By Bob Webber,  January 14th, 2016

FOX CREEK, Alta. – The mayor of an Alberta town in an area of heavy hydraulic fracking is expressing concern over the oil industry’s impact after yet another earthquake hit his community.

“Fox Creek town council is very concerned,” wrote mayor Jim Ahn in a letter to reporters. “It seems industry and the provincial government have been turning a blind eye as to what has been going on in our area.”

Fox Creek — a town that relies almost entirely on oil and gas for jobs — was hit Tuesday by another earthquake. The quake had a magnitude of 4.8, big enough to rumble building and wag pictures on the wall and count as Alberta’s largest.

It was the town’s 367th seismic event since January 2015.

“There’s a reasonable probability that this is related to hydraulic fracturing,” geophysicist Jeff Gu said. “This is based mainly from the history in the region.”

While the Alberta Energy Regulator hasn’t definitively linked the activity to the amount of fracking in the area, it has implemented special regulations for fracking in the area and is conducting research into the issue.

“It was relatively quiet, seismically quiet, prior to 2013,” Gu said. “Then in late 2013, in December, there was a sequence of earthquakes that took place in that area. Since then, there has been heightened seismic activity.”

Tracking history is one thing; predicting if and when a bigger quake could rattle Fox Creek is another thing entirely, Gu said.

“I don’t think anybody actually knows.

“The first thing we have to do is determine where the faults are, what’s the mechanism related to these earthquakes,” Gu said. “I don’t think there’s a set equation.”

But earthquakes aren’t the only thing Ahn is concerned about.

“We have industry pulling water from our rivers, streams and lakes at rates we feel far exceed their capabilities to replenish themselves,” he wrote.

“We do not want to be left with swamps that were once prize trophy lakes.”

The town has had to spend $300,000 to truck in water after levels in the aquifers it normally depends on fell too low, said Ahn. The town has received whistleblower reports of drilling rig leaks that could affect Fox Creek's water supply and received contradictory messages from those involved.

Ahn said the town fears government and regulatory officials don't have its best interests at heart.

"We have had many experts in these fields explain to us that what is happening has been examined and explored for years," he wrote. "We are still very worried that we, the town of Fox Creek, will be the ones left that will have to try and make a life here after all the activity is gone."

Fox Creek is trying to sell itself as a good place to start a business and raise a family and news about well blowouts and earthquakes don't help, Ahn said.

"We have spent millions of dollars to try and attract people to come here ... what we do not need is negative headlines."

Ahn said council has invited Alberta Premier Rachel Notley to visit the town and speak with council about its concerns. Notley has not yet replied, he said.

The premier is asking that an Alberta Energy Regulator review of fracking be sped up.

"My officials have been in touch with the AER to find out exactly what the situation is and where we can get more details on that," Notley said Tuesday.

"Generally speaking the AER has been engaged in a review of fracking in particular as it relates to this issue and I'll be asking them to speed that review up a little bit more to come up with some recommendations that we can consider sooner rather than later."

Those in the industry believe work should be done safely, but also worry what the province - and the country - would look like without fracking.

"It's very important. It sustains the community right now," Brett Lamb, general manager of Noble Drilling, said.

"Fox Creek is driven by the oil and gas industry and fracking is what is driving industry right now."

He's worried about what might happen if the government decided to shut it down.

"If fracking left Fox Creek or Alberta or Canada in general, it would really be a major crush to the industry. The price of oil is bad enough as it is. There's a lot of unemployed Albertans right now."

"The government needs to look at it, but they need to look at it responsibly."



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