Understanding the risk associated with anthropogenic earthquakes is essential in the development and management of engineering processes and hydraulic infrastructure that may alter pore pressures and stresses at depth. The possibility of earthquakes triggered by reservoir impoundment, ocean tides, and hydrological events at the Earth surface (hydro-seismicity) has been extensively debated. The link between induced seismicity and hydrological events is currently based on statistical correlations rather than on physical mechanisms. Here, we explore the geomechanical conditions that could allow for small pore pressure changes due to reservoir management and sea level changes to propagate to depths that are compatible with earthquake triggering at critically-stressed faults (several kilometers). We consider a damaged fault zone that is embedded in a poroelastic rock matrix, and conduct fully coupled hydromechanical simulations of pressure diffusion and rock deformation. We characterize the hydraulic and geomechanical properties of fault zones that could allow for small pressure and loading changes at the ground surface (in the order of tens or hundreds of kPa) to propagate with relatively small attenuation to seismogenic depths (up to 10 km). We find that pressure diffusion to such depths is only possible for highly permeable fault zones and/or strong poroelastic coupling.
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