Earthquakes

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Since 1900, earthquakes in the United States have resulted in over 1300 deaths and direct damages totaling more than $51 billion. While the West Coast and Alaska have the highest risk, history shows that major earthquakes can also affect the Central and Eastern United States.

Basics

The Peru earthquake of May 31, 1970 caused slumping and cracking of this paved road. Image Credit: U.S. Geological Survey

Most earthquakes are caused by the sudden release of built-up stress along faults, fractures in the Earth’s crust where large blocks of crustal rock move against one another. An earthquake’s size can be measured by the amount of energy released by that movement. While scientists can't predict earthquakes, they are developing earthquake early warning systems that can provide seconds to minutes of warning when an earthquake occurs.  Scientists can also estimate the likelihood of future quakes and use that information to design safer buildings and roads.   Read more

Frequently Asked Questions

Case Studies & Factsheets

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Earthquakes in the New Madrid Fault Zone The New Madrid fault zone (NMFZ) is a long-established weakness in the Earth’s crust in the central and eastern US where earthquakes have occurred for hundreds of millions of years. In 1811-1812, three large earthquakes (up to magnitude 7.5) caused severe...

Cover of Induced Seismicity from Oil and Gas Operations

Manmade Earthquakes Any activity that significantly changes the pressure on or fluid content of rocks has the potential to trigger earthquakes. This includes geothermal energy production, water storage in large reservoirs, groundwater extraction, underground injection of water for enhanced oil...

Cover of Geoscientists in Petroleum and the Environment

Introduction Geoscience – the study of the Earth – underpins our understanding of the many intersections between petroleum and the environment, from the search for resources to the study of air pollutants. Without the work of geoscientists, we would have neither the energy system nor the...

Cover of AGI Case Study 2018-001-Geologic Mapping and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline

Overview The 800-mile-long Trans-Alaska Pipeline, which starts at Prudhoe Bay on Alaska’s North Slope, can carry 2 million barrels of oil per day south to the port of Valdez for export, equal to roughly 10% of the daily consumption in the United States in 20171. The pipeline crosses the Denali...

Fig. 3. View of part of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline at the Denali Fault showing major design features. Fault movement and intense ground shaking were accommodated by zigzagging the pipeline and leaving it free to slide. Credit: M. Metz, Anchorage

On November 3, 2002, the 800-mile long Trans-Alaska Pipeline pipeline was able to withstand the largest recorded earthquake for the Denali fault without spilling a drop of oil and with only 3 days shutdown time for inspections. The survival of the pipeline demonstrates the value of combining...

Fig. 1. Densely built urban areas on soft soils are prone to earthquake damage. Geologic maps provide vital information on the extent of these soils. Credit: N.J. Department of Environmental Protection

Geologic mapping provides the data foundation that makes soil mapping and earthquake simulations possible. This approach also can be used to predict damage in areas where the historical record indicates a risk of potential earthquakes. Defining the Problem The density and value of its buildings...

Cover of Subsurface Data in the Oil and Gas Industry

Introduction Drilling for oil and gas is expensive. A single well generally costs $5-8 million onshore and $100-200 million or more in deep water.1 To maximize the chances of drilling a productive well, oil and gas companies collect and study large amounts of information about the Earth’s...