Journal article Open Access

The 2001-Present Induced Earthquake Sequence in the Raton Basin of Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado

Rubinstein, J. L.; Ellsworth, W. L.; McGarr, A.; Benz, H. M.

We investigate the ongoing seismicity in the Raton Basin and find that the deep injection of wastewater from the coal‐bed methane field is responsible for inducing the majority of the seismicity since 2001. Many lines of evidence indicate that this earthquake sequence was induced by wastewater injection. First, there was a marked increase in seismicity shortly after major fluid injection began in the Raton Basin in 1999. From 1972 through July 2001, there was one M≥4 earthquake in the Raton Basin, whereas 12 occurred between August 2001 and 2013. The statistical likelihood that such a rate change would occur if earthquakes behaved randomly in time is 3.0%. Moreover, this rate change is limited to the area of industrial activity. Earthquake rates remain low in the surrounding area. Second, the vast majority of the seismicity is within 5 km of active disposal wells and is shallow, ranging between 2 and 8 km depth. The two most carefully studied earthquake sequences in 2001 and 2011 have earthquakes within 2 km of high‐volume, high‐injection‐rate wells. Third, injection wells in the area are commonly very high volume and high rate. Two wells adjacent to the August 2011 M 5.3 earthquake injected about 4.9 million cubic meters of wastewater before the earthquake, more than seven times the amount injected at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal well that caused damaging earthquakes near Denver, Colorado, in the 1960s. The August 2011 M 5.3 event is the second‐largest earthquake to date for which there is clear evidence that the earthquake sequence was induced by fluid injection.
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