Production induced subsidence and seismicity in the Groningen gas field – can it be managed?
- State Supervision of Mines, The Hague, the Netherlands
Abstract. Reliable prediction of the induced subsidence resulting from gas production is important for a near sea level country like the Netherlands. Without the protection of dunes, dikes and pumping, large parts of the country would be flooded. The predicted sea-level rise from global warming increases the challenge to design proper mitigation measures. Water management problems from gas production induced subsidence can be prevented if measures to counter its adverse effects are taken timely. This requires reliable subsidence predictions, which is a major challenge. Since the 1960's a number of large, multi-decade gas production projects were started in the Netherlands. Extensive, well-documented subsidence prediction and monitoring technologies were applied. Nevertheless predicted subsidence at the end of the Groningen field production period (for the centre of the bowl) went from 100 cm in 1971 to 77 cm in 1973 and then to 30 cm in 1977. In 1984 the prediction went up again to 65 cm, down to 36 cm in 1990 and then via 38 cm (1995) and 42 cm (2005) to 47 cm in 2010 and 49 cm in 2013. Such changes can have large implications for the planning of water management measures.
Until 1991, when the first event was registered, production induced seismicity was not observed nor expected for the Groningen field. Thereafter the number of observed events rose from 5 to 10 per year during the 1990's to well over a hundred in 2013. The anticipated maximum likely magnitude rose from an initial value of less than 3.0 to a value of 3.3 in 1993 and then to 3.9 in 2006. The strongest tremor to date occurred near the village of Huizinge in August 2012. It had a magnitude of 3.6, caused significant damage and triggered the regulator into an independent investigation. Late 2012 it became clear that significantly larger magnitudes cannot be excluded and that values up to magnitude 5.0 cannot be ruled out. As a consequence the regulator advised early 2013 to lower Groningen gas production by as much and as fast as realistically possible. Before taking such a decision, the Minister of Economic Affairs requested further studies. The results became available early 2014 and led to the government decision to lower gas production in the earthquake prone central area of the field by 80 % for the next three~years. In addition further investigations and a program to strengthen houses and infrastructure were started.
Important lessons have been learned from the studies carried out to date. It is now realised that uncertainties in predicted subsidence and seismicity are much larger than previously recognised. Compaction, subsidence and seismicity are strongly interlinked and relate in a non-linear way to production and pressure drop. The latest studies by the operator suggest that seismic hazard in Groningen is largely determined by tremors with magnitudes between 4.5 and 5.0 even at an annual probability of occurrence of less than 1 %. And that subsidence in 2080 in the centre of the bowl could be anywhere between 50 and 70 cm. Initial evaluations by the regulator indicate similar numbers and suggest that the present seismic risk is comparable to Dutch flooding risks.
Different models and parameters can be used to describe the subsidence and seismicity observed so far. The choice of compaction and seismicity models and their parameters has a large impact on the calculated future subsidence (rates), seismic activity and on the predicted response to changes in gas production. In addition there are considerable uncertainties in the ground motions resulting from an earthquake of a given magnitude and in the expected response of buildings and infrastructure. As a result uncertainties in subsidence and seismicity become very large for periods more than three to five years into the future. To counter this a control loop based on interactive modelling, measurements and repeated calibration will be used. Over the coming years, the effect of the production reduction in the centre of the field on subsidence and seismicity will be studied in detail in an effort to improve understanding and thereby reduce prediction uncertainties. First indications are that the reduction has led to a drop in subsidence rate and seismicity within a period of a few months. This suggests that the system can be controlled and regulated. If this is the case, the integrated loop of predicting, monitoring and updating in combination with mitigation measures can be applied to keep subsidence (rate) and induced seismicity within limits. To be able to do so, the operator has extended the field-monitoring network. It now includes PS-InSAR and GPS stations for semi-permanent subsidence monitoring in addition to a traditional network of levelling benchmarks. For the seismic monitoring 60 shallow (200 m) borehole seismometers, 60 + accelerometers and two permanent downhole seismic arrays at reservoir level will be added. Scenario's spanning the range of parameter and model uncertainties will be generated to calculate possible subsidence and seismicity outcomes. The probability of each scenario will be updated over time through confrontation with the measurements as they become available. At regular intervals the subsidence prediction and the seismic risk will be re-evaluated. Further mitigation measures, possibly including further production measures will need to be taken if probabilities indicate unacceptable risks.