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On the role of thermal stress and fluid pressure in triggering seismic and aseismic faulting at the Brawley Geothermal Field, California

Im, Kyungjae and Avouac, Jean-Philippe (2021) On the role of thermal stress and fluid pressure in triggering seismic and aseismic faulting at the Brawley Geothermal Field, California. Geothermics, 97 . Art. No. 102238. ISSN 0375-6505. doi:10.1016/j.geothermics.2021.102238.

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Surface deformation and earthquake swarms are correlated in space and time with operations at the Brawley geothermal field in southern California. The seismicity culminated in 2012, about 2 years after the onset of geothermal activity, with a M5.4 earthquake. These earthquakes occurred at a >5km depth, much larger than the ∼1km reach of the geothermal wells, raising questions about the triggering mechanism. Surface deformation shows that aseismic slip on a normal fault intersecting the geothermal reservoir preceded the swarm and possibly triggered it. In this study, we resort to geomechanical modeling to investigate how the sequence of aseismic and seismic slip unfolded. The modeling accounts for thermo- and poro-elastic stress changes induced by the geothermal operations and allows for inelastic deformation and faulting of the reservoir and surrounding medium. The simulation successfully reproduces the flow rates and well-head pressures reported by the operator as well as the measured surface subsidence. By varying the model parameters, we show that the surface subsidence is due to thermal contraction and normal faulting. The fault reactivation is driven by pressure changes and thermal unclamping. The pressure-driven reactivation is rapid and influences a larger area, while the temperature-driven reactivation is more gradual and more localized near the injection wells. In our simulation, aseismic normal faulting driven by the geothermal operation leads to elastic stress release via yielding and faulting within the reservoir volume and, conversely, to stress build-up beneath the reservoir, where the 2012 swarm developed. Such a stress transfer provides a plausible explanation for the 2012 Brawley swarm. Our study shows how a geothermal operation can, in principle, contribute to seismic hazard mitigation through the aseismic release of tectonic stresses within a geothermal field but points to the difficulty of mitigating the hazard posed by stress transfers in the surrounding area.

Item Type:Article
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URLURL TypeDescription
Im, Kyungjae0000-0003-0057-3119
Avouac, Jean-Philippe0000-0002-3060-8442
Additional Information:© 2021 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Under a Creative Commons license - Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) Received 4 June 2021, Revised 21 August 2021, Accepted 25 August 2021, Available online 4 September 2021. We thank Derek Elsworth for providing the simulator. This study was supported by the National Science Foundation via the IUCR center Geomechanics and Mitigation of Geohazards (award #1822214) and via the Southern California Earthquake Center. CRediT authorship contribution statement. Kyungjae Im: Conceptualization, Methodology, Software, Writing – original draft. Jean-Philippe Avouac: Conceptualization, Validation, Writing – review & editing. The authors declare that they have no known competing financial interests or personal relationships that could have appeared to influence the work reported in this paper.
Group:Center for Geomechanics and Mitigation of Geohazards (GMG), Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, Seismological Laboratory
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Southern California Earthquake CenterUNSPECIFIED
Subject Keywords:Induced seismicity; Geothermal reservoir simulation; Surface subsidence; Brawley geothermal
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20210908-171122066
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Official Citation:Kyungjae Im, Jean-Philippe Avouac, On the role of thermal stress and fluid pressure in triggering seismic and aseismic faulting at the Brawley Geothermal Field, California., Geothermics, Volume 97, 2021, 102238, ISSN 0375-6505,
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:110762
Deposited By: George Porter
Deposited On:08 Sep 2021 22:32
Last Modified:15 Nov 2022 15:29

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