The Canadian province that gave birth to the 21st-century oil boom is no longer waiting to determine whether hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, may be responsible for a recent slew of earthquakes.
Alberta’s energy regulator has issued a new set of “traffic light” rules governing fracking in the province in the wake of two major quakes. All oil producers must now show how fracking could impact local faultlines, and put in place a seismicity monitoring and response program.
If a magnitude 4.0 quake occurs within 5 kilometers of the well, all operations must be halted and can’t be restarted without the province’s consent.
“While these seismic events have not impacted public safety, it is our job to take this precautionary step to ensure energy resources in this area are developed in a safe and responsible manner,” Jim Ellis, chief executive officer of the Alberta Energy Regulator, said in a statement according to the Financial Post.
Alberta is best known for its massive tar sands, which are mostly developed through mining and where production began to surge a few years ahead of the better-known boom spots in the U.S. But the province is also home to most of the fracking that occurs in Canada.
In January, quakes of magnitudes 3.8 and 4.4 struck near the town of Fox Creek within days of each other. Alberta’s energy regulator said there was “strong evidence” they resulted from fracking, making it one the largest events ever to be linked to the practice, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Company. The town and the surrounding area had seen almost no seismicity until fracking started there in 2013, according to Norton Rose Fulbright, a law firm that works on energy issues.
The new rules are unique in that they govern fracking itself, and not wastewater injections, which have been more strongly linked to earthquakes in the U.S. In 2011, the state of Oklahoma, where earthquakes have exploded in recent years, put in place “traffic light”-style rules for injection wells. But Gov. Mary Fallin only recently agreed to form a panel to look in general at the state’s increased seismic activity.
Earlier this year, U.S. scientists found evidence that fracking in Ohio was directly responsible for two significant earthquakes that rattled several towns near the state’s border with Pennsylvania.
Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.