Dr David Dempsey’s Stanford team reveals method to identify manmade quakes

21 December 2015

Engineering Science lecturer Dr David Dempsey is among the Stanford researchers who recently discovered a technique to differentiate between natural and manmade earthquakes.

The new study, led by Assistant Professor of Geophysics Jenny Suckale, was presented last week at the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting in San Francisco. Dr Dempsey, then a postdoctoral researcher, analysed a sequence of earthquakes on an unmapped basement fault near the town of Guy, Arkansas from 2010 to 2011.

Their findings suggest that earthquakes triggered by human activity follow several indicative patterns that scientist can distinguish from naturally occurring tremblors. Notably, they concluded that large-magnitude manmade earthquakes can increase over time independent of the previous seismicity rate. The Arkansas case study revealed that “induced” quakes are influenced by the injection of wastewater, which is sometimes an auxiliary activity to the hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” process.

Suckale believes that this information is particularly pertinent to oil and natural gas industries, and government regulators – injection activities can, and should be limited in time to prevent large earthquakes from happening.

Read more about the study here.