The failures of two recent deep geothermal energy projects in Switzerland (Basel, 2006; St. Gallen, 2013) have again highlighted that one of the key challenges for the successful development and operation of deep underground heat exchangers is to control the risk of inducing potentially hazardous seismic events. In St. Gallen, after an injection test and two acid injections that were accompanied by a small number of micro-earthquakes (ML < 0.2), operators were surprised by an uncontrolled gas release from the formation (gas kick). The “killing” procedures that had to be initiated following standard drilling procedures led to a ML3.5 earthquake.
With ambient seismic noise cross correlations from nine stations, we observe a significant loss of waveform coherence that we can horizontally and vertically constrain to the injection location of the fluids. The loss of waveform coherence starts with the onset of the fluid injections 4 days prior to the gas kick. We interpret the loss of coherence as a local perturbation of the medium. We show how ambient seismic noise analysis can be used to assess the aseismic response of the subsurface to geomechanical well operations and how this method could have helped to recognize the unexpected reservoir dynamics at an earlier stage than the microseismic response alone, allowed.
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