During 2018–2019, oil was intermittently produced from the Late Jurassic Upper Portland Sandstone in the Weald Basin, southeast England, via the Horse Hill-1 and Brockham-X2Y wells. Concurrently, a sequence of earthquakes of magnitude ≤3.25 occurred near Newdigate, ∼3 km and ∼8 km from these wells. The pattern, with earthquakes concentrated during production from this Portland reservoir, suggests a cause-and-effect connection. It is proposed that this seismicity occurred on a patch of fault transecting permeable Dinantian limestone, beneath the Jurassic succession of the Weald Basin, hydraulically connected to this reservoir via this permeable fault and the permeable calcite ‘beef’ fabric within the Portland sandstone; oil production depressurizes this reservoir and draws groundwater from the limestone, compacting it and ‘unclamping’ the fault, reaching the Mohr-Coulomb failure criterion and causing seismicity. In principle this model is fully testable, but required data, notably the history of pressure variations in the wells, are not currently in the public domain. Quantitative estimates are, nonetheless, made of the magnitudes of the variations, arising from production from each well, in the state of stress on the seismogenic Newdigate fault. The general principles of this model, including the incorporation of poroelastic effects and effects of fault asperities into Mohr-Coulomb failure calculations, may inform understanding of anthropogenic seismicity in other settings.
Part of the book: Earthquakes