Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Developments in understanding seismicity triggered by hydraulic fracturing


As recently as 2015, it was common in the scientific literature to find assertions that the risk of triggering a damaging earthquake by hydraulic fracturing (HF) — an industrial process where pressurized fluids are used to create or open fractures within rock layers — could be treated as negligible. However, that viewpoint has changed dramatically. It is now clear that the hazard from induced seismicity (including HF) exceeds the natural hazard in low-to-moderate seismicity environments. As such, to mitigate risk to vulnerable and critical infrastructure, it is important to address the likelihood and triggering mechanisms of HF-induced earthquakes. Although it is sometimes claimed that HF-induced earthquakes can be accurately predicted, avoided or controlled, critical knowledge gaps still remain. In this Review, we discuss six fundamental issues surrounding induced seismicity, focusing specifically on HF-induced events, including: the triggering mechanisms of HF seismicity; the relationship between tectonic environment and HF seismicity; the similarities and differences between induced and natural events; the damage potential associated with HF-induced seismicity; whether HF-induced events can be predicted; and the relative hazards of HF-induced and natural seismic events. We finish by outlining future research directions that are required to minimize the uncertainty and hazard that surround induced seismicity.

Key points

  • Hydraulic fracturing can trigger earthquakes large enough (generally, magnitude >4) to cause potentially damaging ground motions, with actual damage depending on the intensity of motions and the vulnerability of nearby infrastructure.

  • The triggering of anomalous events (M >2) requires a source of stress perturbation, a pre-existing, critically stressed fault with sufficient surface area to host a felt event and a coupling mechanism that connects the source to the fault, either directly or indirectly.

  • Induced earthquakes are similar to their natural counterparts with respect to source characteristics, magnitude–frequency characteristics and ground motions.

  • The hazard from earthquakes induced by hydraulic fracturing might greatly exceed the natural earthquake hazard in regions of low to moderate seismicity, which is consequential for the seismic safety of nearby (<10 km) infrastructure.

  • Potentially damaging induced events cannot be confidently predicted in advance of operations. Current risk-mitigation strategies, such as traffic light protocols, have not yet proved reliable. Further development of hazard forecasting and mitigation approaches is a critical future area of research.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: Global distribution of induced seismicity.
Fig. 2: Possible triggering mechanisms of HF-induced seismicity.
Fig. 3: Ground motions and damage potential from induced events.
Fig. 4: Traffic light protocol thresholds for various regions worldwide.
Fig. 5: Relationship between cumulative injected volume and seismic moment.


  1. 1.

    Healy, J. H., Rubey, W. W., Griggs, D. T. & Raleigh, C. B. The Denver earthquakes. Science 161, 1301–1310 (1968).

    Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Raleigh, C. B., Healy, J. H. & Bredehoeft, J. D. An experiment in earthquake control at Rangely, Colorado. Science 191, 1230–1237 (1976).

    Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Simpson, D. & Leith, W. The 1976 and 1984 Gazli, USSR, earthquakes – Were they induced? Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 75, 1465–1468 (1985).

    Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Wetmiller, R. Earthquakes near Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, and their relationship to gas production facilities. Can. J. Earth Sci. 23, 172–181 (1986).

    Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    McGarr, A. On a possible connection between three major earthquakes in California and oil production. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 81, 948–970 (1991).

    Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Horner, R., Barclay, J. & MacRae, J. Earthquakes and hydrocarbon production in the Fort St. John area of northeastern British Columbia. Can. J. Explor. Geophys. 30, 39–50 (1994).

    Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Baranova, V., Mustaqeem, A. & Bell, S. A model for induced seismicity caused by hydrocarbon production in the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin. Can. J. Earth Sci. 36, 47–64 (1999).

    Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    McGarr, A., Simpson, D., Seeber, L. & Lee, W. Case histories of induced and triggered seismicity. Int. Handb. Earthq. Eng. Seismol. 81A, 647–664 (2002).

    Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    National Research Council. Induced Seismicity Potential in Energy Technologies (National Academies Press, 2013).

  10. 10.

    Eaton, D. W. Passive Seismic Monitoring of Induced Seismicity: Fundamental Principles and Application to Energy Technologies (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2018).

  11. 11.

    Ellsworth, W. L. Injection-induced earthquakes. Science 341, 1225942 (2013). Foundational paper on the rise of injection-induced earthquakes in the central USA and key mechanism of triggering-induced seismicity.

    Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Atkinson, G. M. et al. Hydraulic fracturing and seismicity in the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin. Seismol. Res. Lett. 87, 631–647 (2016). First clear demonstration that HF is a dominant triggering mechanism of seismicity in western Canada and that there are event outliers above the McGarr upper magnitude bound for injection-triggered seismicity.

    Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Atkinson, G. Strategies to prevent damage to critical infrastructure due to induced seismicity. FACETS 2, 374–394 (2017).

    Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Weingarten, M., Ge, S., Godt, J. W., Bekins, B. & Rubinstein, J. High-rate injection is associated with the increase in US mid-continent seismicity. Science 348, 1336–1340 (2015).

    Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    King, G. E. Hydraulic fracturing 101: what every representative, environmentalist, regulator, reporter, investor, university researcher, neighbor and engineer should know about estimating frac risk and improving frac performance in unconventional gas and oil wells. SPE Hydraul. Fracturing Technol. Conf. (2012).

  16. 16.

    Nicholson, C. & Wesson, R. L. Triggered earthquakes and deep well activities. Pure Appl. Geophys. 139, 561–578 (1992).

    Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Dusseault, M. & McLennan, J. Massive multi-stage hydraulic fracturing: where are we? 45th US Rock Mechanics/Geomechanics Symp. (2011).

  18. 18.

    Clarke, H., Eisner, L., Styles, P. & Turner, P. Felt seismicity associated with shale gas hydraulic fracturing: the first documented example in Europe. Geophys. Res. Lett. 41, 8308–8314 (2014).

    Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Green, C. A., Styles P. & Baptie, B. J. Preese Hall shale gas fracturing review and recommendations for induced seismic mitigation (Department of Energy and Climate Change, 2012).

  20. 20.

    Lei, X., Wang, Z. & Su, J. The December 2018 M L 5.7 and January 2019 M L 5.3 earthquakes in South Sichuan Basin induced by shale gas hydraulic fracturing. Seismol. Res. Lett. 90, 1099–1110 (2019). Details of the largest HF-triggered event to date, with billions of dollars in damages and several deaths.

    Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Lei, X. et al. Fault reactivation and earthquakes with magnitudes of up to Mw4.7 induced by shale-gas hydraulic fracturing in Sichuan Basin, China. Sci. Rep. 7, 7971 (2017).

    Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Langenbruch, C., Ellsworth, W. L., Woo, J. U. & Wald, D. J. Value at induced risk: injection-induced seismic risk from low-probability, high-impact events. Geophys. Res. Lett. 47, e2019GL085878 (2020).

    Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Van der Baan, M. & Calixto, F. J. Human-induced seismicity and large-scale hydrocarbon production in the USA and Canada. Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst. 18, 2467–2485 (2017).

    Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Ghofrani, H. & Atkinson, G. M. A preliminary statistical model for hydraulic fracture-induced seismicity in the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin. Geophys. Res. Lett. 43, 10–64 (2016).

    Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Mayerhofer, M. J. et al. What is stimulated reservoir volume? SPE Prod. Oper. 25, 89–98 (2010).

    Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Warpinski, N. R. & Wolhart, S. A validation assessment of microseismic monitoring. SPE Hydraul. Fracturing Technol. Conf. (2016).

  27. 27.

    Schultz, R., Stern, V., Novakovic, M., Atkinson, G. & Gu, Y. Hydraulic fracturing and the Crooked Lake sequences: Insights gleaned from regional seismic networks. Geophys. Res. Lett. 42, 2750–2758 (2015).

    Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Bao, X. & Eaton, D. W. Fault activation by hydraulic fracturing in Western Canada. Science 354, 1406–1409 (2016). First detailed analysis of HF-triggered seismicity, linking HF operations to several distinct clusters of seismicity and showing evidence of both pore pressure and stress perturbation activating pre-existing faults.

    Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Deng, K., Liu, Y. & Harrington, R. M. Poroelastic stress triggering of the December 2013 Crooked Lake, Alberta, induced seismicity sequence. Geophys. Res. Lett. 43, 8482–8491 (2016).

    Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Zoback, M. D. Reservoir Geomechanics (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2010).

  31. 31.

    Shapiro, S. A., Dinske, C., Langenbruch, C. & Wenzel, F. Seismogenic index and magnitude probability of earthquakes induced during reservoir fluid stimulations. Lead. Edge 29, 304–309 (2010).

    Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Langenbruch, C. & Shapiro, S. A. Quantitative analysis of rock stress heterogeneity: Implications for the seismogenesis of fluid-injection-induced seismicity. Geophysics 80, WC73–WC88 (2015).

    Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Keranen, K., Weingarten, M., Abers, G., Bekins, B. & Ge, S. Sharp increase in central Oklahoma seismicity since 2008 induced by massive wastewater injection. Science 345, 448–451 (2014).

    Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Goebel, T. H. W., Weingarten, M., Chen, X., Haffener, J. & Brodsky, E. E. The 2016 Mw5.1 Fairview, Oklahoma earthquakes: Evidence for long-range poroelastic triggering at >40 km from fluid disposal wells. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 472, 50–61 (2017).

    Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    Shapiro, S. A. & Dinske, C. On stress drop, cohesion and seismogenic index of fluid-induced seismicity. ESSOAr (2020).

  36. 36.

    Maxwell, S. C. et al. Fault activation during hydraulic fracturing. SEG Tech. Program Expand. Abstr. (2009).

  37. 37.

    Kettlety, T., Verdon, J. P., Werner, M. J., Kendall, J.-M. & Budge, J. Investigating the role of elastostatic stress transfer during hydraulic fracturing-induced fault activation. Geophys. J. Int. 217, 1200–1216 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Shapiro, S. A. & Dinske, C. Fluid-induced seismicity: pressure diffusion and hydraulic fracturing. Geophys. Prospecting 57, 301–310 (2009).

    Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Holland, A. Earthquakes triggered by hydraulic fracturing in south-central Oklahoma. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 103, 1784–1792 (2013).

    Google Scholar 

  40. 40.

    Westaway, R. Integrating induced seismicity with rock mechanics: a conceptual model for the 2011 Preese Hall fracture development and induced seismicity. Geol. Soc. Spec. Publ. 454, 327–359 (2017).

    Google Scholar 

  41. 41.

    Talwani, P. & Acree, S. in Earthquake Prediction. Pure and applied geophysics (eds Shimazaki, K. & Stuart, W.) 947–965 (Birkhäuser, 1985).

  42. 42.

    Shapiro, S., Huenges, E. & Borm, G. Estimating the crust permeability from fluid-injection-induced seismic emission at the KTB site. Geophys. J. Int. 131, F15–F18 (1997).

    Google Scholar 

  43. 43.

    Langenbruch, C., Weingarten, M. & Zoback, M. D. Physics-based forecasting of man-made earthquake hazards in Oklahoma and Kansas. Nat. Commun. 9, 3946 (2018).

    Google Scholar 

  44. 44.

    Igonin N., Verdon, J. P., Kendall, M. & Eaton, D. The role of parallel fracture networks for induced seismicity in the Duvernay Formation. EAGE Conf. Exhibit. Proc. 2019, 1–5 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  45. 45.

    Segall, P. & Lu, S. Injection-induced seismicity: poroelastic and earthquake nucleation effects. J. Geophys. Res. Solid Earth 120, 5082–5103 (2015).

    Google Scholar 

  46. 46.

    Kettlety T., Verdon, J. P., Werner, M. J. & Kendall, J.-M. Stress transfer from hydraulic fracture opening controlling injection-induced fault activation. J. Geophys. Res. Solid Earth 125, e2019JB018794 (2020).

    Google Scholar 

  47. 47.

    Garagash, D. I. & Germanovich, L. N. Nucleation and arrest of dynamic slip on a pressurized fault. J. Geophys. Res. Solid Earth 117, B10310 (2012).

    Google Scholar 

  48. 48.

    Guglielmi, Y., Cappa, F., Avouac, J.-P., Henry, P. & Elsworth, D. Seismicity triggered by fluid injection–induced aseismic slip. Science 348, 1224–1226 (2015).

    Google Scholar 

  49. 49.

    Kohli, A. H. & Zoback, M. D. Frictional properties of shale reservoir rocks. J. Geophys. Res. Solid Earth 118, 5109–5125 (2013).

    Google Scholar 

  50. 50.

    Scholz, C. Earthquakes and friction laws. Nature 391, 37–42 (1998).

    Google Scholar 

  51. 51.

    Eyre, T. S. et al. The role of aseismic slip in hydraulic fracturing-induced seismicity. Sci. Adv. 5, eaav7172 (2019). High-resolution analysis of HF-triggered seismicity showing events triggered at a depth 100s of metres above the injection zone, with evidence of aseismic slip and long-lived seismicity after the completion of injection.

    Google Scholar 

  52. 52.

    Bhattacharya, P. & Viesca, R. C. Fluid-induced aseismic fault slip outpaces pore-fluid migration. Science 364, 464–468 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  53. 53.

    Wang, B., Harrington, R. M., Liu, Y., Kao, H. & Yu, H. Remote dynamic triggering of earthquakes in three unconventional Canadian hydrocarbon regions based on a multiple-station matched-filter approach. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 109, 372–386 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  54. 54.

    Friberg, P. A., Besana-Ostman, G. M. & Dricker, I. Characterization of an earthquake sequence triggered by hydraulic fracturing in Harrison County, Ohio. Seismol. Res. Lett. 85, 1295–1307 (2014).

    Google Scholar 

  55. 55.

    Skoumal, R. J., Brudzinski, M. R. & Currie, B. S. Earthquakes induced by hydraulic fracturing in Poland Township, Ohio. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 105, 189–197 (2015).

    Google Scholar 

  56. 56.

    Schultz, R. et al. The Cardston earthquake swarm and hydraulic fracturing of the Exshaw Formation (Alberta Bakken play). Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 105, 2871–2884 (2015).

    Google Scholar 

  57. 57.

    Schultz, R., Atkinson, G. M., Eaton, D. W., Gu, Y. J. & Kao, H. Hydraulic fracturing completion volume is associated with induced earthquake productivity in the Duvernay play. Science 359, 304–308 (2018). Canadian case studies showing that seismic productivity scales linearly with injection volume and using a modified framework for induced seismicity forecasting relying on the seismogenic index.

    Google Scholar 

  58. 58.

    Mahani, A. B. et al. Fluid injection and seismic activity in the northern Montney play, British Columbia, Canada, with special reference to the 17 August 2015 Mw 4.6 induced earthquake. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 107, 542–552 (2017).

    Google Scholar 

  59. 59.

    Rich, J., Bailey, A., Jreij, S. & Klepacki, D. High-resolution insights into hydraulic fracturing strike-slip seismicity: hypocenter uncertainty, depth of initiation, and genesis mechanisms. SEG Int. Expo. Annu. Meet. (2019).

  60. 60.

    Clarke, H., Verdon, J. P., Kettlety, T., Baird, A. F. & Kendall, J.-M. Real-time imaging, forecasting, and management of human-induced seismicity at Preston New Road, Lancashire, England. Seismol. Res. Lett. 90, 1902–1915 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  61. 61.

    Wright, G. N., McMechan, M. E. & Potter, D. E. Structure and architecture of the Western Canada sedimentary basin. In Geological Atlas of the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin, G.D. Mossop and I. Shetsen (comp.). Can. Soc. Pet. Geologists Alta. Res. Counc. 4, 25–40 (1994).

    Google Scholar 

  62. 62.

    Shen, C. B., Mei, L. F., Xu, Z. P. & Tang, J. G. Architecture and tectonic evolution of composite basin-mountain system in Sichuan basin and its adjacent areas. Geotecton. Metallog. 31, 288–299 (2007).

    Google Scholar 

  63. 63.

    Clarke, H., Turner, P. & Bustin, R. Unlocking the resource ppotential of the Bowland Basin, NW England. SPE/EAGE Eur. Unconvent. Resour. Conf. Exhibit. (2014).

  64. 64.

    Verdon, J. P. & Budge, J. Examining the capability of statistical models to mitigate induced seismicity during hydraulic fracturing of shale gas reservoirs. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 108, 690–701 (2018).

    Google Scholar 

  65. 65.

    Ghofrani, H. & Atkinson, G. Updated statistics for seismicity induced by hydraulic fracturing in the Western Canada sedimentary basin. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. (2020). Special issue on induced seismicity.

  66. 66.

    Eaton, D. W. & Schultz, R. Increased likelihood of induced seismicity in highly overpressured shale formations. Geophys. J. Intern. 214, 751–757 (2018).

    Google Scholar 

  67. 67.

    Schultz, R. et al. Linking fossil reefs with earthquakes: Geologic insight to where induced seismicity occurs in Alberta. Geophys. Res. Lett. 43, 2534–2542 (2016).

    Google Scholar 

  68. 68.

    Pawley, S. et al. The geological susceptibility of induced earthquakes in the Duvernay play. Geophys. Res. Lett. 45, 1786–1793 (2018).

    Google Scholar 

  69. 69.

    Davis, S. & Frohlich, C. Did (or will) fluid injection cause earthquakes? Criteria for a rational assessment. Seismol. Res. Lett. 64, 207–224 (1993).

    Google Scholar 

  70. 70.

    Montalvo-Arrieta, J. C. et al. El Cuchillo seismic sequence of October 2013–July 2014 in the Burgos Basin, northeastern Mexico: Hydraulic fracturing or reservoir-induced seismicity? Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 108, 3092–3106 (2018).

    Google Scholar 

  71. 71.

    Verdon, J. P., Baptie, B. J. & Bommer, J. J. An improved framework for discriminating seismicity induced by industrial activities from natural earthquakes. Seismol. Res. Lett. 90, 1592–1611 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  72. 72.

    Dahm, T., Cesca, S., Hainzl, S., Braun, T. & Krüger, F. Discrimination between induced, triggered, and natural earthquakes close to hydrocarbon reservoirs: a probabilistic approach based on the modeling of depletion-induced stress changes and seismological source parameters. J. Geophys. Res. 120, 2491–2509 (2015).

    Google Scholar 

  73. 73.

    Schoenball, M., Davatzes, N. & Glen, J. M. Differentiating induced and natural seismicity using space–time–magnitude statistics applied to the Coso Geothermal field. Geophys. Res. Lett. 42, 6221–6228 (2015).

    Google Scholar 

  74. 74.

    Cesca, S., Rohr, A. & Dahm, T. Discrimination of induced seismicity by full moment tensor inversion and decomposition. J. Seismol. 17, 147–163 (2013).

    Google Scholar 

  75. 75.

    Ogata, Y. Statistical models for earthquake occurrences and residual analysis for point processes. J. Am. Stat. Assoc. 83, 9–27 (1988).

    Google Scholar 

  76. 76.

    Llenos, A. L. & Michael, A. J. Characterizing potentially induced earthquake rate changes in the Brawley seismic zone, southern California. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 106, 2045–2062 (2016).

    Google Scholar 

  77. 77.

    Lei, X. et al. A detailed view of the injection-induced seismicity in a natural gas reservoir in Zigong, southwestern Sichuan Basin, China. J. Geophys. Res. Solid Earth 118, 4296–4311 (2013).

    Google Scholar 

  78. 78.

    Zaliapin, I. & Ben-Zion, Y. Discriminating characteristics of tectonic and human-induced seismicity. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 106, 846–859 (2016).

    Google Scholar 

  79. 79.

    BC Oil and Gas Commission. Investigation of observed seismicity in the Horn River Basin (BCOGC, 2012).

  80. 80.

    Farahbod, A. M., Kao, H., Cassidy, J. F. & Walker, D. How did hydraulic-fracturing operations in the Horn River Basin change seismicity patterns in northeastern British Columbia, Canada? Lead. Edge 34, 658–663 (2015).

    Google Scholar 

  81. 81.

    Hicks, S. P. et al. A shallow earthquake swarm close to hydrocarbon activities: discriminating between natural and induced causes for the 2018–19 Surrey, UK earthquake sequence. Seismol. Res. Lett. 90, 2095–2110 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  82. 82.

    Sileny, J., Hill, D. P., Eisner, L. & Cornet, F. H. Non–double-couple mechanisms of microearthquakes induced by hydraulic fracturing. J. Geophys. Res. Solid. Earth 114, B08307 (2009).

    Google Scholar 

  83. 83.

    Baig, A. & Urbancic, T. Microseismic moment tensors: a path to understanding frac growth. Lead. Edge 29, 320–324 (2010).

    Google Scholar 

  84. 84.

    Eaton, D. W., van der Baan, M., Birkelo, B. & Tary, J. B. Scaling relations and spectral characteristics of tensile microseisms: Evidence for opening/closing cracks during hydraulic fracturing. Geophys. J. Int. 196, 1844–1857 (2014).

    Google Scholar 

  85. 85.

    Zhang, H., Eaton, D. W., Rodriguez, G. & Jia, S. Q. Source-mechanism analysis and stress inversion for hydraulic-fracturing-induced event sequences near Fox Creek, Alberta. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 109, 636–651 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  86. 86.

    Eyre, T. S., Eaton, D. W., Zecevic, M., D’Amico, D. & Kolos, D. Microseismicity reveals fault activation before Mw4.1 hydraulic-fracturing induced earthquake. Geophys. J. Int. 218, 534–546 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  87. 87.

    Zhang, H., Eaton, D. W., Li, G., Liu, Y. & Harrington, R. M. Discriminating induced seismicity from natural earthquakes using moment tensors and source spectra. J. Geophys. Res. Solid Earth 121, 972–993 (2016).

    Google Scholar 

  88. 88.

    Huang, Y., Ellsworth, W. L. & Beroza, G. C. Stress drops of induced and tectonic earthquakes in the central United States are indistinguishable. Sci. Adv. 8, e1700772 (2017).

    Google Scholar 

  89. 89.

    Holmgren, J. M., Atkinson, G. M. & Ghofrani, H. Stress drops and directivity of induced earthquakes in the western Canada sedimentary basin. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 109, 1635–1652 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  90. 90.

    Yenier, E. & Atkinson, G. A regionally-adjustable generic GMPE based on stochastic point-source simulations. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 105, 1989–2009 (2015).

    Google Scholar 

  91. 91.

    Atkinson, G. M. & Assatourians, K. Are ground-motion models derived from natural events applicable to the estimation of expected motions for induced earthquakes? Seismol. Res. Lett. 88, 430–441 (2017).

    Google Scholar 

  92. 92.

    Atkinson, G. M. The intensity of ground motions from induced earthquakes with implications for damage potential. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 110, 1–14 (2020).

    Google Scholar 

  93. 93.

    Schultz, R., Wang, R., Gu, Y. J., Haug, K. & Atkinson, G. A seismological overview of the induced earthquakes in the Duvernay play near Fox Creek, Alberta. J. Geophys. Res. Solid Earth 122, 492–505 (2017).

    Google Scholar 

  94. 94.

    Poulin, A. et al. Focal-time analysis: A new method for stratigraphic depth control of microseismicity and induced seismic events. Geophysics 84, KS173–KS182 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  95. 95.

    Gutenberg, R. & Richter, C. F. Frequency of earthquakes in California. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 34, 185–188 (1944).

    Google Scholar 

  96. 96.

    Van der Elst, N. J., Page, M. T., Weiser, D. A., Goebel, T. H. & Hosseini, S. M. Induced earthquake magnitudes are as large as (statistically) expected. J. Geophys. Res. Solid Earth 121, 4575–4590 (2016). Seminal paper on relationships between injected fluid volume, seismogenic index, b-value and maximum observed magnitude; maximum induced earthquake magnitudes are consistent with Gutenberg–Richter sampling statistics.

    Google Scholar 

  97. 97.

    Wessels, S., Kratz, M. & De La Pena, A. Identifying fault activation during hydraulic stimulation in the Barnett shale: source mechanisms, b values, and energy release analysis of microseismicity. SEG Annu. Meet. (2011).

  98. 98.

    Goertz-Allmann, B. P. & Wiemer, S. Geomechanical modeling of induced seismicity source parameters and implications for seismic hazard assessment. Geophysics 78, KS25–KS39 (2013).

    Google Scholar 

  99. 99.

    Petersen, M. D. et al. Seismic-hazard forecast for 2016 including induced and natural earthquakes in the central and eastern United States. Seismol. Res. Lett. 87, 1327–1341 (2016).

    Google Scholar 

  100. 100.

    White, I., Liu, T., Luco, N. & Liel, A. Comparisons between the 2016 USGS induced-seismicity hazard model, “Did You Feel It?” data, and instrumental data. Seismol. Res. Lett. 89, 127–137 (2017).

    Google Scholar 

  101. 101.

    Lee, K. K. et al. Managing injection-induced seismic risks. Science 364, 730–732 (2019). Learnings from the Pohang EGS project show that induced earthquake magnitudes are not limited by injection volume and that the largest earthquake was a runaway earthquake; highlights need to consider risk, not just hazard.

    Google Scholar 

  102. 102.

    Giardini, D. Geothermal quake risks must be faced. Nature 462, 848–849 (2009).

    Google Scholar 

  103. 103.

    Yeck, W. L. et al. Oklahoma experiences largest earthquake during ongoing regional wastewater injection hazard mitigation efforts. Geophys. Res. Lett. 44, 711–717 (2017).

    Google Scholar 

  104. 104.

    Atkinson, G. M. Ground-motion prediction equation for small-to-moderate events at short hypocentral distances, with application to induced seismicity hazards. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 105, 981–992 (2015).

    Google Scholar 

  105. 105.

    Rennolet, S. B., Moschetti, M. P., Thompson, E. M. & Yeck, W. L. A flatfile of ground motion intensity measurements from induced earthquakes in Oklahoma and Kansas. Earthq. Spectra 34, 1–20 (2018).

    Google Scholar 

  106. 106.

    Novakovic, M., Atkinson, G. M. & Assatourians, K. Empirically calibrated ground-motion prediction equation for Oklahoma. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 108, 2444–2461 (2018).

    Google Scholar 

  107. 107.

    Novakovic, M. & Atkinson, G. M. Preliminary evaluation of ground motions from earthquakes in Alberta. Seismol. Res. Lett. 86, 1086–1095 (2015).

    Google Scholar 

  108. 108.

    Mahani, A. B. & Kao, H. Ground motion from M1.5–3.8 induced earthquakes at hypocentral distance <45 km in the Montney Play of northeast British Columbia, Canada. Seismol. Res. Lett. 89, 22–34 (2018).

    Google Scholar 

  109. 109.

    Mahani, A. B. et al. Ground-motion characteristics of the 30 November 2018 injection-induced earthquake sequence in Northeast British Columbia, Canada. Seismol. Res. Lett. 90, 1457–1467 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  110. 110.

    Holmgren, J. M., Atkinson, G. M. & Ghofrani, H. Reconciling ground motions and stress drops for induced earthquakes in the western Canada sedimentary Basin. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  111. 111.

    Hough, S. E. Shaking from injection-induced earthquakes in the central and eastern United States. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 104, 2619–2626 (2014).

    Google Scholar 

  112. 112.

    Allmann, B. P. & Shearer, P. M. Global variations of stress drop for moderate to large earthquakes. J. Geophys. Res. 114, B01310 (2009).

    Google Scholar 

  113. 113.

    Radiguet, M., Cotton, F., Manighetti, I., Campillo, M. & Douglas, J. Dependency of near-field ground motions on the structural maturity of the ruptured faults. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 99, 2572–2581 (2009).

    Google Scholar 

  114. 114.

    Bommer, J. J. et al. Control of hazard due to seismicity induced by a hot fractured rock geothermal project. Eng. Geol. 83, 287–306 (2006).

    Google Scholar 

  115. 115.

    Westaway, R. & Younger, P. L. Quantification of potential macroseismic effects of the induced seismicity that might result from hydraulic fracturing for shale gas exploitation in the UK. Q. J. Eng. Geol. Hydrogeol. 47, 333–350 (2014).

    Google Scholar 

  116. 116.

    US Geological Survey. The severity of an earthquake. USGS (1989).

  117. 117.

    Wilson, M. P., Worrall, F., Davies, R. J. & Almond, S. Fracking: how far from faults? Geomech. Geophys. Geoenergy Georesources 4, 193–199 (2018).

    Google Scholar 

  118. 118.

    Diehl, T., Kraft, T., Kissling, E. & Wiemer, S. The induced earthquake sequence related to the St. Gallen deep geothermal project (Switzerland): Fault reactivation and fluid interactions imaged by microseismicity. J. Geophys. Res. 122, 7272–7290 (2017).

    Google Scholar 

  119. 119.

    Eaton, D. W. et al. Induced seismicity characterization during hydraulic-fracture monitoring with a shallow-wellbore geophone array and broadband sensors. Seismol. Res. Lett. 89, 1641–1651 (2018).

    Google Scholar 

  120. 120.

    Schoenball, M. & Ellsworth, W. L. Waveform-relocated earthquake catalog for Oklahoma and southern Kansas illuminates the regional fault network. Seismol. Res. Lett. 88, 1252–1258 (2017).

    Google Scholar 

  121. 121.

    Häring, M. O., Schanz, U., Ladner, F. & Dyer, B. C. Characterisation of the Basel 1 enhanced geothermal system. Geothermics 37, 469–495 (2008).

    Google Scholar 

  122. 122.

    Baisch, S., Koch, C. & Muntendam-Bos, A. Traffic light systems: to what extent can induced seismicity be controlled? Seismol. Res. Lett. 90, 1145–1154 (2019). Shows that traffic light approaches are limited in their ability to predict and suggests that their underlying assumptions are generally not valid.

    Google Scholar 

  123. 123.

    Sumy, D. F., Cochran, E. S., Keranen, K. M., Wei, M. & Abers, G. A. Observations of static Coulomb stress triggering of the November 2011 M5.7 Oklahoma earthquake sequence. J. Geophys. Res. 119, 1904–1923 (2014).

    Google Scholar 

  124. 124.

    Dieterich, J. H., Richards-Dinger, K. B. & Kroll, K. A. Modeling injection-induced seismicity with the physics-based earthquake simulator RSQSim. Seismol. Res. Lett. 86, 1102–1109 (2015).

    Google Scholar 

  125. 125.

    Verdon, J. P., Stork, A. L., Bissell, R. C., Bond, C. E. & Werner, M. J. Simulation of seismic events induced by CO2 injection at In Salah, Algeria. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 426, 118–129 (2015).

    Google Scholar 

  126. 126.

    Shapiro, S. A., Kruger, O. S., Dinske, C. & Langenbruch, C. Magnitudes of induced earthquakes and geometric scales of fluid-stimulated rock volumes. Geophysics 76, WC55–WC63 (2011).

    Google Scholar 

  127. 127.

    Hallo, M., Oprsal, I., Eisner, L. & Ali, M. Y. Prediction of magnitude of the largest potentially induced seismic event. J. Seismol. 18, 421–431 (2014).

    Google Scholar 

  128. 128.

    Kwiatek, G. et al. Controlling fluid-induced seismicity during a 6.1-km-deep geothermal stimulation in Finland. Sci. Adv. 5, .eaav7224 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  129. 129.

    McGarr, A. Maximum magnitude earthquakes induced by fluid injection. J. Geophys. Res. 119, 1008–1019 (2014). Highly cited empirical relation between injected volume and maximum observed magnitude, including presentation of an underlying physical model and its assumptions.

    Google Scholar 

  130. 130.

    Igonin, N., Zecevic, M. & Eaton, D. W. Bilinear magnitude-frequency distributions and characteristic earthquakes during hydraulic fracturing. Geophys. Res. Lett. 45, 12–866 (2018).

    Google Scholar 

  131. 131.

    Ellsworth, W. L., Giardini, D., Townend, J., Ge, S. & Shimamoto, T. Triggering of the Pohang, Korea, earthquake (M w 5.5) by enhanced geothermal system stimulation. Seismol. Res. Lett. 90, 1844–1858 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  132. 132.

    Galis, M., Ampuero, J. P., Mai, P. M. & Cappa, F. Induced seismicity provides insight into why earthquake ruptures stop. Sci. Adv. 3, eaap7528 (2017).

    Google Scholar 

  133. 133.

    Mignan, A., Broccardo, M., Wiemer, S. & Giardini, D. Induced seismicity closed-form traffic light system for actuarial decision-making during deep fluid injections. Nat. Sci. Rep. 7, 13607 (2017).

    Google Scholar 

  134. 134.

    Broccardo, M., Mignan, A., Wiemer, S., Stojadinovic, B. & Giardini, D. Hierarchical Bayesian modeling of fluid-induced seismicity. Geophys. Res. Lett. 44, 11357–11367 (2017).

    Google Scholar 

  135. 135.

    Mignan, A., Karvounis, D., Broccardo, M., Wiemer, S. & Giardini, D. Including seismic risk mitigation measures into the Levelized Cost of Electricity in enhanced geothermal systems for optimal siting. Appl. Energy 238, 831–850 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  136. 136.

    Langenbruch, C. & Shapiro, S. A. Decay rate of fluid-induced seismicity after termination of reservoir stimulations. Geophysics 75, MA53–MA62 (2010).

    Google Scholar 

  137. 137.

    Barth, A., Wenzel, F. & Langenbruch, C. Probability of earthquake occurrence and magnitude estimation in the post shut-in phase of geothermal projects. J. Seismol. 17, 5–11 (2013).

    Google Scholar 

  138. 138.

    Wesnousky, S. G. The Gutenberg-Richter or characteristic earthquake distribution, which is it? Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 84, 1940–1959 (1994).

    Google Scholar 

  139. 139.

    Gischig, V. S. Rupture propagation behavior and the largest possible earthquake induced by fluid injection into deep reservoirs. Geophys. Res. Lett. 42, 7420–7428 (2015).

    Google Scholar 

  140. 140.

    Eaton, D. W. & Igonin, N. What controls the maximum magnitude of injection-induced earthquakes? Lead. Edge. 37, 135–140 (2018).

    Google Scholar 

  141. 141.

    Cornell, C. A. Engineering seismic risk analysis. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 58, 1583–1606 (1968).

    Google Scholar 

  142. 142.

    McGuire, R. K. Seismic Hazard and Risk Analysis (Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, 2004).

  143. 143.

    Petersen, M. D. et al. Documentation for the 2008 update of the United States national seismic hazard maps (USGS, 2008).

  144. 144.

    Halchuk, S., Allen, T., Adams, J. & Rogers, G. C. Fifth generation seismic hazard model input files as proposed to produce values for the 2015 national building code of Canada (Geological Survey of Canada, 2014).

  145. 145.

    Canadian Dam Association. Seismic hazard considerations for dam safety (CDA, 2007).

  146. 146.

    Reiter, L. Earthquake Hazard Analysis; Issues and Insights (Columbia Univ. Press, 1990).

  147. 147.

    Alberta Energy Regulator. Initial seismic hazard assessment for the 2016 induced earthquakes near Fox Creek, Alberta (AER, 2017).

  148. 148.

    Ghofrani, H., Atkinson, G. M., Schultz, R. & Assatourians, K. Short-term hindcasts of seismic hazard in the western Canada sedimentary basin caused by induced and natural earthquakes. Seismol. Res. Lett. 90, 1420–1435 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  149. 149.

    Skoumal, R. J., Ries, R., Brudzinski, M. R., Barbour, A. J. & Currie, B. S. Earthquakes induced by hydraulic fracturing are pervasive in Oklahoma. J. Geophys. Res. Solid Earth 123, 10918–10935 (2018).

    Google Scholar 

  150. 150.

    Atkinson, G. M., Ghofrani, H. & Assatourians, K. Impact of induced seismicity on the evaluation of seismic hazard: some preliminary considerations. Seismol. Res. Lett. 86, 1009–1021 (2015).

    Google Scholar 

  151. 151.

    Norbeck, J. H. & Rubinstein, J. L. Hydromechanical earthquake nucleation model forecasts onset, peak, and falling rates of induced seismicity in Oklahoma and Kansas. Geophys. Res. Lett. 45, 2963–2975 (2018).

    Google Scholar 

  152. 152.

    Walters, R. J., Zoback, M. D., Baker, J. W. & Beroza, G. C. Characterizing and responding to seismic risk associated with earthquakes potentially triggered by fluid disposal and hydraulic fracturing. Seismol. Res. Lett. 86, 1110–1118 (2015).

    Google Scholar 

  153. 153.

    Grigoli, F. et al. Current challenges in monitoring, discrimination, and management of induced seismicity related to underground industrial activities: A European perspective. Rev. Geophys. 55, 310–340 (2017).

    Google Scholar 

  154. 154.

    Fasola, S. L. et al. Hydraulic fracture injection strategy influences the probability of earthquakes in the Eagle Ford shale play of South Texas. Geophys. Res. Lett. 46, 12958–12967 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  155. 155.

    Schultz, R. & Wang, R. Newly emerging cases of hydraulic fracturing induced seismicity in the Duvernay East Shale Basin. Tectonophysics 779, 228393 (2020).

    Google Scholar 

  156. 156.

    Brudzinski, M. R. & Kozłowska, M. Seismicity induced by hydraulic fracturing and wastewater disposal in the Appalachian Basin, USA: a review. Acta Geophysica 67, 351–364 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  157. 157.

    López-Comino, J. A. et al. Induced seismicity response of hydraulic fracturing: results of a multidisciplinary monitoring at the Wysin site, Poland. Sci. Rep. 8, 8653 (2018).

    Google Scholar 

  158. 158.

    Foulger, G. R., Wilson, M. P., Gluyas, J. G., Julian, B. R. & Davies, R. J. Global review of human-induced earthquakes. Earth Sci. Rev. 178, 438–514 (2018).

    Google Scholar 

Download references


The authors receive financial support for their research programmes from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. We thank James Verdon for constructive discussions that contributed to the manuscript and Minhee Choi for assistance in preparing the final manuscript.

Author information




All authors contributed to the research, writing, figure preparation and editing of this Review.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Gail M. Atkinson.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Peer review information

Nature Reviews Earth & Environment thanks X. Lei, C. Langenbruch and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher’s note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.


Operationally induced microseismicity

Weak seismicity that is expected to occur during operations such as hydraulic fracturing or development of an engineered geothermal system.

Unconventional plays

Oil and gas resources whose porosity, permeability, fluid-trapping mechanism or other characteristics differ from conventional hydrocarbon reservoirs.


A process in which permanent plastic deformation occurs owing to various microscale or atomic-scale mechanisms.

Failure criteria

A mathematical model defining stress conditions under which failure might occur, such as the Mohr–Coulomb failure criteria.

Epidemic-type aftershock sequence (ETAS) models

Cascading point processes derived from Omori’s law that can be used to simulate the temporal patterns of earthquake sequences in a given region.


Seismicity of magnitude less than 0.


A mathematical model for an earthquake-source mechanism, consisting of two orthogonal force couples. The mechanism is typically parameterized using the strike and dip of the fault plane, as well as the rake (slip vector).

Stress drop

The co-seismic reduction in shear stress acting on a fault (the difference between the shear stress on the fault before an earthquake and the shear stress after an earthquake).


The effects of earthquake ground motion on the natural or built environment.


The point on the surface vertically above an earthquake’s focus.

Peak ground acceleration

Maximum instantaneous amplitude of the absolute value of the acceleration of the ground.

Seismic moment

A measure of the size of an earthquake based on the product of the rupture area, the average amount of slip and the force that was required to overcome fault friction.

Runaway rupture

The initiation of larger-magnitude earthquakes that extend past the stimulated region. These events primarily release tectonic strain on faults outside the stimulated region.


Earthquakes that precede the largest earthquake in a sequence.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Atkinson, G.M., Eaton, D.W. & Igonin, N. Developments in understanding seismicity triggered by hydraulic fracturing. Nat Rev Earth Environ 1, 264–277 (2020).

Download citation

Further reading


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing