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B.C.’s oil and gas regulator stepping up earthquake monitoring

A series of small but high-profile earthquakes triggered by hydraulic fracturing last year is behind a decision by B.C.’s oil and gas regulator to step up monitoring of seismic activity.

Starting June 1, the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission (OGC) will collect ground motion data from new wells in gas fields near Fort St. John and Dawson Creek, the regulator announced in an industry bulletin this week.

The new permit conditions require companies to have “adequate monitoring” systems in place during hydraulic fracturing. In addition, companies will have to file a ground motion monitoring report within 30 days of completing a fracture.

“This is the next step in mitigation measures that started with earlier permit conditions in 2012, increased seismic monitoring in the northeast in 2013 and new regulations in 2015,” OGC spokesperson Alan Clay wrote in an email.

Fracking was deemed the cause of a 4.6 earthquake north of Fort St. John last summer—the largest “induced seismicity” event on record in B.C.

The quake had its epicentre at a drilling site operated by Progress Energy, the largest drilling company in B.C. The company temporarily suspended operations during an investigation. Shaking could be felt as far away as Charlie Lake.

While the quake caused no damage, it raised debate about industry regulation as the provincial government pins its hopes to a liquefied natural gas industry.

Progress Energy is the upstream subsidiary of Petronas, the company behind the $11 billion Pacific NorthWest LNG export facility outside Prince Rupert. The company recently slashed its Northeast B.C. operations as it awaits a federal decision on the facility.

More than 230 earthquakes were linked to fracking in an earlier Oil and Gas Commission study between August 2013 and November 2014, but only 11 could be felt at the surface.


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Fracking triggers 90% of large quakes in B.C., Alberta oil and gas patch

Fracking triggers 90% of large quakes in B.C., Alberta oil and gas patch

There’s bad news and good news when it comes to fracking and earthquakes in Western Canada, according to new research from a paper co-authored by a Geological Survey of Canada scientist.

The new research confirms a definitive link between hydraulic fracturing and almost every large induced earthquake recorded in B.C. and Alberta’s oil and gas patches since 1985.

In other words, scientists now have evidence that 90 per cent of seismic events over magnitude 3.0 that shook the region were triggered by crews fracking for oil and gas underground.

But with so many fracking wells in operation, the evidence also shows only a tiny fraction of them — less than one percent — directly triggered earthquakes.

Now, scientists say, they need to determine what factors caused 39 wells to trigger quakes.

Mysterious factors

They say it appears other factors they don’t yet fully understand must also be at play determining which fracking operations trigger earthquakes and which do not.

“It is important for us to realize that indeed hydraulic fracturing can induce earthquakes,” said Honn Kao, a research scientist with the Geological Survey of Canada and one of 13 co-authors of a study, set to be published in the May-June issue of the peer-reviewed Seismological Research Letters, the journal of the Seismological Society of America.

“But the evidence so far indicates there are other factors that may be important in this process as well, so that we cannot blame all the hydraulic fracturing operations for inducing big earthquakes,” he said.

Kao said these other factors are likely related to local geology, local hydrology and the distribution of tectonic plates and fault lines, but more research is needed.

In British Columbia, where the government has pinned its financial future on ramping up fracking so it can export gas as liquified natural gas, these research results will be closely analysed.

‘Part of the risk’

“​We realize induced earthquakes are definitely part of the risk that may be associated with the development of the oil and gas,” said Kao. ” That is a cause for so much concern from the regulators as well as the public.”

“It’s important to conduct more research to figure out the best balance between the protection of the public safety and the environment and the economic benefits of developing unconventional oil and gas.

“We will provide the necessary science and all the scientific analysis to the policy making process so collectively B.C. and Alberta will make the wise decision if they want to proceed [with fracking] or not,” said Kao.

12,289 fracked wells studied

Kao and his fellow scientists based their research on 25 years of data on earthquake activity in a swath of northeastern B.C.and western Alberta, called the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin, that’s not traditionally seismically active. They combed through data between 1985 and 2015 about seismic events larger than magnitude 3.0, as well as information from 12,289 hydraulically fractured gas and oil wells, and 1,000 fracturing waste disposal wells.

The results? More than 90 per cent of large earthquakes were associated with nearby fracking operations. More than 60 per cent of these quakes were linked to hydraulic fracture with about 30 to 35 per cent coming from disposal wells. Only five to 10 per cent of the earthquakes had a natural tectonic origin.

As well, just 0.3 per cent of the fracked wells triggered large earthquakes. And those large earthquakes didn’t result in any injuries or significant damage.

While the percentages sound small, lead author Gail Atkinson of the University of Western Ontario said that thousands of hydraulic fracturing wells had been drilled every year in the region, increasing the likelihood of earthquake activity.

“We haven’t had a large earthquake near vulnerable infrastructure yet,” she said, “but I think it’s really just a matter of time before we start seeing damage coming out of this.”

Atkinson said the new numbers could be used to recalculate the seismic hazard for the region, which could impact everything from building codes to safety assessments of critical infrastructure such as dams and bridges.

“Everything has been designed and assessed in terms of earthquake hazard in the past, considering the natural hazard,” she said. “And now we’ve fundamentally changed that, and so, our seismic hazard picture has changed.”

Different from U.S. frack ‘quakes

The research also confirmed differences scientists have long suspected between Canada and the United States. In the U.S., induced earthquakes are most often linked to the underground disposal of fracking waste materials, rather than the fracturing process itself.

Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” is a process that involves pumping a mixture of water, sand and chemicals underground at high pressure to fracture rock and release trapped natural gas.

Studies have linked fracking with earthquakes in the U.K., Oklahoma, Alberta, and in B.C.


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5.2 magnitude earthquake detected off Vancouver Island

5.2 magnitude earthquake detected off Vancouver Island

Earthquake struck around 3:30 p.m. PT at a depth of 10 kilometres, 205 kilometres west of Port Hardy.

A 5.2-magnitude earthquake struck off the west coast of Vancouver Island, near Port Hardy, Friday around 3:38 p.m. PT.

Earthquake Canada says the earthquake was not felt, and no tsunami was expected.

The shaker was centred 205 kilometres west-southwest of Port Hardy at a depth of 10 kilometres, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

There were no reports of damage and none are expected.


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$5 million to be spent on early warning earthquake sensors for B.C.

The provincial government is providing $5 million to Ocean Networks Canada, the organization that aims to install eight more seismic sensors on the ocean floor just off the west coast of Vancouver Island – the most likely location for the epicentre of a destructive earthquake in British Columbia.

The network of sensors detects the primary wave (p-wave), the initial movements of the earth’s crust when an earthquake occurs. P-waves are generally non-damaging and are the precursor of the secondary waves (p-wave), the waves that cause damage.

In order for a warning to be triggered, at least three sensors must go off to reduce the likelihood of false alerts.

With integration into alert systems, the detection of the arrival of p-waves will eventually lead to the creation of a more comprehensive early-warning system in British Columbia – allowing up to a 90 second for a major earthquake event.

Ocean Networks Canada, based at the University of Victoria, is also in the process of creating a software program that will alert infrastructure and critical service operators of an impending earthquake. A warning a few seconds ahead could be sufficient time to shut down gas lines, stop trains and surgeries, and alert students at schools and universities to take cover.

“This funding from the Province of British Columbia, along with support from key collaborators, is a welcome sign that earthquake early warning will soon become a reality,” said Kate Moran, President & CEO, Ocean Networks Canada in a statement.

“It is an important part of ONC’s vision, to use our knowledge and leadership to deliver solutions for science, society and industry. This earthquake early warning system means that BC communities at risk from major earthquakes, will be be able to better prepare for, and build resilience to earthquakes.”

In 2015, 50 Catholic schools and two public schools in the Lower Mainland received an early-warning alert systems that can detect an earthquake. The pilot project, funded jointly by the Archdiocese and the provincial government, required the installation of p-wave sensors at each school, buried two metres deep in the soil.


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Magnitude 4.7 earthquake detected off the coast of Vancouver Island

Magnitude 4.7 earthquake detected off the coast of Vancouver Island

A magnitude 4.7 earthquake was detected off the west coast of Vancouver Island this morning.

According to the United States Geological Survey, the tremor hit at 10:38 a.m. PST and had an epicentre 176 kilometres southwest of Port Hardy – near the border of the Explorer and Juan de Fuca plates. It had a depth of 20 kilometres.

No damage can be expected given the location, and a tsunamis warning was not declared.

Thousands of small earthquakes hit B.C. every year, but only a small fraction have a magnitude of 4.0 or greater.


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New earthquake technology could have forewarned 2001 Nisqually shaker

It’s been 15 years, but Victoria’s John Cassidy still clearly remembers the shaking he felt from a 6.8 magnitude earthquake in Washington State.

“Yeah I was actually at home sick that day so I was at home and everything just really started rattling and shaking and it was … the strongest shaking I’d ever experienced,” said the Natural Resources Canada seismologist based in Victoria B.C..

On Feb. 28, 2001, the quake, called the Nisqually earthquake, centred near Olympia, Wash. about 150 km southeast of Victoria, was felt across southwestern B.C., from northern Vancouver Island to the Okanagan.

While there was only minor damage in Victoria and Vancouver, Cassidy says it caused $1 billion worth of damage in the Seattle area along with numerous injuries.

Cassidy along with his colleagues studying earthquakes with the federal government are marking the anniversary of the quake by reflecting on how far technology has come in the study of seismic events, including one that can forewarn violent shaking from an earthquake when it begins.

“So if you’re far enough away from a large earthquake, there is the opportunity to have some warning time, in some cases five second, ten seconds, maybe a few minutes warning based on the travel time of the waves,” said Cassidy.

While he concedes that doesn’t sound like much, it could be enough time for someone to dive under a desk, move away from a window or even have automated systems open the doors to firehalls or warn surgeons to put down their scalpels.

Earthquake science still ‘young’

Cassidy says earthquakes like Nisqually and a similar, less powerful one that occurred on Dec. 29, 2015 near Sidney B.C., but was also felt across the South Coast, create opportunities for scientists to learn from the new monitoring devices now in place.

“We have many more instruments on the ground now. We have more precise locations. We can actually map the ocean plate, where those deep earthquakes are occurring,” he said. “So our understanding of how ground shaking varies with distance from an earthquake has moved forward.”

Scientists also have new tools like global positioning systems, which show earth movements every hour of every day, along with the ability to image the sea floor to look for faults.

“There’s a lot going on,” said Cassidy adding that earthquake science remains “very young,” as data is still missing from earthquakes which occurred thousands of years ago and there are faults which haven’t been discovered yet.

Still, despite the doom and gloom of a big one coming to the Pacific Northwest, there is optimism that the science that now exists can be used to better protect people living here.

“All of this new information feeds into our building codes, into our bridge codes, our dam codes and this information is being used to protect us from future earthquakes,” he said. “And one of the best ways to protect ourselves from future earthquakes is through the earthquake science, the earthquake engineering.”

Cassidy also celebrated the awareness being done in schools and by cities to inform residents about what to do when the shaking starts,

“It will make a difference when the next earthquake hits this region, so if people know what to do before an earthquake, during and after an earthquake, that will save lives, and that will make a huge difference in minimizing those future impacts.”


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128 B.C. school upgrades still awaiting seismic upgrades

While officials agree Tuesday night’s earthquake is a “perfect example” of why B.C. needs to upgrade schools still at high risk of structural collapse, there is still a lot of finger-pointing about the delays getting it done.

According to the Ministry of Education, a total of 342 schools still require seismic upgrades. Over the past decade, the provincial government put in place plans worth $2.2 billion to upgrade or replace 214.

But that still leaves 128 B.C. schools a high risk of collapse during an earthquake, with no plan in place to upgrade or replace them.

According to Education Minister Mike Bernier, in some cases the delays getting the work underway rest with the school districts.

“I think this earthquake is a perfect example and a wake-up call of why we don’t want to be waiting any longer,” said Bernier on Thursday morning.

“It’s one of the top priorities that I have within my mandate to continue to work with the school districts. The funding is there.

“Of course, the timing of that can only go as fast, and as quickly, and as efficiently as the school boards themselves work with us to make sure those priorities are delivered,” Bernier said.

VSB chair says the money isn’t there

But according to Vancouver School Board Chair Mike Lombardi it’s the ministry that is responsible for the delays stopping the upgrades from getting done.

There are 68 high-risk schools in Vancouver alone with no plan in place, and 21 of those are rated by the province at H1, the highest of the three levels of high risk, in the ratings system used by the province.

“We’ve done our preliminary work, but there’s been no approval at the ministry level,” said Lombardi this week.

“We want to get the job done,” Lombardi said. “What we need is the government to step up to the table, live up to their commitment and sign those project agreements so we can start doing the work.”

The fight over who is to blame for the delays has been going on for some time. Earlier this year, then-education minister Peter Fassbender denied media reports the province had pushed back the timetable for seismic upgrades by as many as ten years, to 2030.

Then just before Christmas the Vancouver School Board asked the province to extend the district’s seismic plan deadline from the end of January until June 16, 2016, so that the board could have more time to consult with parents and other stakeholders.

But that plan was rejected by the province.

“I actually denied that plan and said that that was unacceptable,” Bernier said.


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Earthquake detectors gave UBC researcher heads-up on quake

When Tuesday night’s 4.8 magnitude earthquake hit Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland, Kent Johansen was working late in his home laboratory in Burnaby.

He heard an alarm go off. An earthquake was coming.

And for a man working with UBC’s Earthquake Engineering Research Facility on earthquake detection, that was good news — it meant the system worked.

“I’m thinking, this is serious: this is a real one,” he told On The Coast guest host Laura Lynch about the moment he saw the alarm.

“I went upstairs and got my seven-year-old daughter Freya, we got underneath the table in the living room, and I was devastated. I wanted to see all the data roll by!”

Thirteen seconds after Johansen got the warning, the quake hit.

Warnings can reduce casualties by half

Alarms powered by the UBC earthquake detectors have been placed in 61 schools on Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland, and more schools are planned to receive them.

If classes had been in session, students would have heard a loud siren before the quake hit. Schools in Victoria would have gotten about six seconds of warning before the quake hit, and Lower Mainland schools would have received 13 to 16 seconds.

While that might not seem like a lot of time, Johansen said that even a warning of three to four seconds can halve the number of casualties from an earthquake.

Johansen said he is happy with the way the system works, but hopes this quake gets British Columbians thinking about preparing for “the big one” in a more serious way.

“We don’t have a lot of the good ‘training’ earthquakes here in Vancouver, and that’s probably why we take the big one that’s lurking with such nonchalant distance,” he said.


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Preparing for an earthquake: before, during and after

If an earthquake were to hit, would you know where to hide and what to do after?

B.C.’s South Coast was hit by what seismologists are calling one of the largest earthquakes in the region in years.

Before an earthquake hits

1. Have an emergency kit ready to go

Make sure you have an emergency kit near the door you’re most likely to exit, and keep it free from clutter. Rene Bernstein, marketing director for St.John Ambulance, BC & Yukon recommends keeping a kit in your car and at work as well.

The kit should hold you over for at least 72 hours and should include food, water, first aid supplies, flashlights, medication, a radio, contact lists, comfort items for children, cash and other items.

You can put it together yourself of buy an earthquake emergency kit that is already fully stocked with all the essentials.

2. Have a disaster plan

Bernstein says having a family plan is crucial — designate a meeting place for your family and how to contact each other if you are separated and cell phones aren’t working.

Know how to evacuate, where to meet and who to call. Make sure each member of the family is prepared for a number of scenarios. The province’s emergency disaster response route can be found online.

Make a plan to get home from work if roads and bridges are closed to vehicles, and have appropriate footwear to change into at work, so you can walk.

3. Secure your heavy furniture

Bernstein recommends also preparing your home in the event an earthquake hits.

Bookcases, appliances, pianos, dressers and beds can all become dislodged and cause injury. These should be fixed to the wall.

4. Put breakable and heavy objects down low

Don’t load your top shelves with items that can shatter and cause injury.

“Most people get hurt with flying or falling debris,” cautions Bernstein.

She says the kitchen is often the most dangerous room in the house during an earthquake, thanks to heavy appliances, breakable items, and sharp objects.

5. Reduce the risk from glass

Windows, mirrors and picture frames can shatter during an earthquake. Reduce your risk by securing pictures and mirrors to walls, and keeping beds and tables away from windows.

If that’s not possible, consider heavy drapes in high-risk areas, or a special film for glass.

6. Prepare your children

Parents’ instinct will be to run to children as soon as disaster strikes. However, if you are in separate rooms, it may be safer for each family member to take immediate shelter (for example, under a sturdy table).

Bernstein suggests teaching younger children a song to sing during the shaking so you know they are safe.

Make sure your children are aware of safe zones and how long to stay put (at least 60 seconds after shaking has stopped).

Children’s kits should also include items such as toys and family photographs to comfort them while they are out of the home.

7. Prepare for pets

Make a plan for food and medication for pets, as they are often over-looked in emergency planning.

8. Find your gas valve

Know where gas outlets are and how to turn them off.

During an earthquake

If you are indoors, stay indoors — do not run outside during an earthquake. Stay away from windows as much as possible and quickly protect yourself, advises the City of Vancouver.

Dive under a sturdy table, drop to your knees, cover your head and neck and hold on to the table. Don’t get up for at least 60 seconds or until the shaking has stopped.

Drop, Cover and Hold On!

If there is no desk, crouch in an inside corner of a room, avoid standing in a doorway.

If you are outside, stay outside and move away from buildings, streetlights and utility wires.

If you are in a vehicle, stop and park in a clear location.

The City of Vancouver offers free emergency planning workshops and also provides them upon request from community groups and businesses.

After an earthquake

Aftershocks can occur minutes, hours or days after the earthquake.

The City of Vancouver suggests that after an earthquake to move immediately to a higher ground, smell for gas, check for injuries and for others. Call for help if need be, look out for fallen power lines, fire and damaged buildings.

Keep informed by tuning into the radio, television and stay informed by signing-up for Twitter alerts.


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B.C. earthquake wakes up Vancouver, Victoria-area residents

Quake, 4.3-4.8 in magnitude, centred 20 km north of Victoria at 11:39 p.m PT Tuesday but no damage reported.

B.C.’s South Coast was hit by an earthquake that shook many people from their sleep just before midnight, in what one seismologist called the largest quake in the region in years.

Some people near the epicentre northeast of Victoria reported their homes shifted, and others were knocked off their feet.

“The house moved seriously to the right, came back, it was loud. The aquarium had a mini-tsunami and overflowed. We were in the kitchen and got tossed into the counter,” wrote one commenter on the CBC website.

Others in Metro Vancouver reported windows rattling and items on walls shaking, while many in apartments reported feeling a large impact that felt like a truck hitting the building.

“I felt it in the West End here of Vancouver and I looked out my window to see if a truck had hit the side of my building! It was quite a sharp jolt that made my walls bend and creak, but nothing really shook or swayed,” wrote another commenter.

‘Pretty big shake’

There were varying reports about the magnitude of the quake that struck at 11:39 p.m. PT. Natural Resources Canada measured it at 4.3 ML, while the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reported M 4.8.

The quake was centred about 19 kilometres north-northeast of Victoria. The seismic activity was reportedly 42 kilometres deep.

Earthquakes Canada says there have been no reports of significant damage, and “none would be expected.”

But many residents did report that cracks appeared in floors, ceilings and walls of homes.

Natural Resources Canada seismologist John Cassidy, who lives in Victoria, said he felt “a pretty big shake” for about 10 seconds.

“It’s the largest earthquake in this region in many years,” said Cassidy.

But he added: “Earthquakes are a lot more common around the world than we might think … it’s not really an unusual earthquake,” with about 1,000 similar “light to moderate” quakes felt globally every month.

He also said: “There is no pattern in this region for precursors to a larger earthquake, so this doesn’t really tell us anything about when a larger earthquake may occur in the future.

“But it’s very clearly is a good reminder of the seismicity in this region, that we live in a very active earthquake zone.”

Given the depth of Tuesday’s quake, he said it’s unlikely there would be any aftershocks, but if there were any, they would be light.

TransLink temporarily shut down the Millennium and Expo lines of the SkyTrain, but spokeswoman Anne Drennan said they, along with bus bridges, were reopened for one last run.

BC Hydro said the earthquake hasn’t impacted any transmission or distribution systems.

California quakes reported earlier

Several hours earlier, a 4.4 magnitude quake struck near San Bernardino, Calif.

The USGS said aftershocks of magnitude 3.8 and 3.2 came minutes later, and dozens of tiny aftershocks followed over the next few hours.

Cassidy says it’s unlikely the B.C. and California quakes were linked, as they’re part of different fault lines.

Reminder to be prepared

B.C. authorities and elected officials said although no significant damage had been reported in the province, the quake serves as a reminder to be prepared.

Essentials for large-scale disasters include:

  • An emergency kit with extra water, food and supplies.
  • A plan to reconnect with family and loved ones.
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