Data from: Seismic swarms produced by rapid fluid injection into a low permeability laboratory fault

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These data are from Laboratory Earthquake Experiments from the Cornell 0.76 m apparatus in support of the following research: Fluid injection, from activities such wastewater disposal, hydraulic stimulation, or enhanced geothermal systems, decreases effective normal stress on faults and promotes slip. Nucleation models suggest the slip at low effective normal stress will be stable and aseismic—contrary to observed increases in seismicity that are often attributed to fluid injection. We conducted laboratory experiments using a biaxial loading apparatus that demonstrate how an increase in fluid pressure can induce “stick-slip” events along a preexisting saw-cut fault in a poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA) sample. We compared slip events generated by externally squeezing the sample (shear-triggered) to those due to direct fluid injection (fluid-triggered) and studied the effects of injection rate and stress levels. Shear-triggered slip events began on a localized nucleation patch and slip smoothly accelerated from slow and aseismic to fast and seismic. Fluid-triggered slip events initiated far more abruptly and were associated with swarms of tiny foreshocks. These foreshocks were able to bypass the nucleation process and jump-start a mainshock resulting in an abrupt initiation. Analysis of these foreshocks indicates that the injection of fluid into a low permeability fault promotes heterogeneous stress and strength which can cause many events to initiate—some of which grow large. We conclude that while a reduction in effective normal stress stabilizes fault slip, rapid fluid injection into a low permeability fault increases multi-scale stress/strength heterogeneities which can initiate small seismic events that have the potential to rapidly grow, even into low stress regions.

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This work was sponsored by National Science Foundation grant EAR-1847139.

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hydraulic stimulation; laboratory earthquake; diffusivity


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