Legal Header

By Topic

While there is no evidence of any major destructive earthquake in Alberta’s history, hundreds of low to moderate magnitude earthquakes have occurred since 1950. Studies have shown that hydraulic fracturing can cause earthquakes, so it’s important that we understand why this happens and how we can manage it.

Scientists at the Alberta Geological Survey (AGS), a branch of the AER, use over 50 monitoring systems to measure and research earthquakes and seismic activity across Alberta.

Earthquakes in the Fox Creek Area

Alberta’s Fox Creek area has experienced an increasing number of earthquakes since December 2013. This area is used for hydraulic fracturing operations.

While there have been no known impacts to the public, nearby infrastructure, or the environment, we want to help ensure the safe, orderly, and environmentally responsible development of energy resources. For this reason, we have monitoring and reporting requirements in place for hydraulic fracturing operators in the area. For example, earthquakes within 5 kilometres of a company’s operations must be reported.

Our Requirements

Before operating, companies in the Fox Creek area drilling within the Duvernay Zone must assess the potential for earthquakes caused by, or resulting from, hydraulic fracturing. A company must be prepared to implement a response plan if an earthquake is reported.

Companies in the area must comply with Subsurface Order No. 2, which imposes seismic monitoring and reporting requirements in the zone. The order specifies that companies conducting hydraulic fracturing operations in this zone must monitor seismic activity within 5 kilometres of their wells during operations.

We also have a number of requirements in place to protect subsurface and wellbore integrity during hydraulic fracturing. Directive 083: Hydraulic Fracturing – Subsurface Integrity addresses the hydraulic fracturing risk to subsurface well integrity.

Ranking System

Companies operating in Fox Creek must follow a “traffic light” system to monitor for seismic activity.

  • Seismic event of less than 2.0 local magnitude (ML): no action is required by the operator.
  • Seismic event of 2.0 ML or greater: the operator must immediately report the event to the AER and implement their response plan.
  • Seismic event of 4.0 ML or greater: the operator must immediately cease operations and report it to us. They cannot resume operations without our approval.

Protecting Albertans and the Environment

These requirements for the Fox Creek area will be in place as long as we feel they are necessary for the safe, efficient, orderly, and environmentally responsible development of energy resources. Companies that don’t comply with our requirements will face enforcement action. In certain cases, we will shut down an operation.

Follow Our Updates

Albertans should know when we detect earthquakes. We share our detections of seismic activity in the Fox Creek area with you here.

Events that register a significant magnitude (4.0 or greater) are also included on our Compliance Dashboard.

Further information can be found using our Alberta Interactive Seismic Events Map.

Additional Information 

Our order is for the Fox Creek area of the Duvernay Zone because of the recent cluster of earthquakes. However, we do monitor seismicity around the province. If we become aware of multiple earthquakes in other areas of the province, we may extend these requirements to these areas.

Residents in the town of Fox Creek have reported feeling some movement during two of the largest earthquakes.

Current research suggests that a seismic event with a magnitude of less than 3–4 ML could feel like vibrations of a passing truck and may not be noticed. An event with a magnitude of 4–5 ML could have more noticeable effects in terms of sound, vibrations, and overturning of unstable objects. The actual effect depends on ground conditions.

We monitor earthquakes across Alberta and outside our borders. We use Regional Alberta Observatory for Earthquake Studies Network (RAVEN) stations in conjunction with networks operated by other research organizations, including Natural Resources Canada, the University of Alberta, the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology, the University of Western Ontario, and the University of Calgary.

At the heart of each monitoring station is a seismometer, a device that measures ground vibrations. Vibrations are digitally recorded and sent back to us in real time. Incoming vibration data are processed by the AGS to determine the location of the event; the results are then verified by an in-house team to ensure accuracy. Next, we analyze earthquake locations and trends using state-of-the-art techniques to better discern the nature of these quakes.