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Study suggests bedrock stress — a factor in fracking — caused earthquakes

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New research is digging in to why fracking causes earthquakes in some areas but not in others.

A paper published Monday in Geophysical Research Letters suggests the likelihood of an artificial earthquake is heavily influenced by how stable the ground was before the energy industry showed up.

“Some places appear to be particularly responsive to [artificially-]occurring earthquakes while other places aren’t,” said Honn Kao, a seismologist with the Geological Survey of Canada and lead author.

Scientists have known for some time that injecting fluids to dispose of wastewater or to free underground reserves of oil and gas can cause earthquakes.

Regulatory records show there have been hundreds of seismic events since 2015 in a heavily fracked area of northwestern Alberta.

Those earthquakes around the Fox Creek area have registered as high as 4.5 on the Richter scale — strong enough to rattle dishes and pictures.

Alberta’s energy regulator has tightened restrictions on fracking in the area.

Meanwhile, other regions see thousands of wells fracked while the earth remains still.

While the link between fracking and earthquakes is well-established, precisely how that link works remains mysterious.

Other studies have asked if it’s related to local geology or particular fracking practices, but Kao said he’s found a much more important contributor.

“The background tectonic loading rate appear to be one of the predominant factors that control the region’s response to injection-induced earthquakes,” he said.

Tension ‘stored like a coiled spring’

In other words, the deep, underground shifting of Earth’s rocky tectonic plates create zones where tension is concentrated and stored like a coiled spring, called tectonic deformation. The sudden shattering of rock through fracking or the injection of high-pressure wastewater releases that pent-up energy in the form of an earthquake.

The finding could help explain why western Alberta and northeast B.C. have a high rate of fracking-induced earthquakes and places such as Saskatchewan, which has thousands of fracked wells, doesn’t.

“The Canadian side of the Rocky Mountains has a much higher tectonic deformation rate,” Kao said. “As you go from the Canadian Rocky Mountains eastward, the deformation rate drops quite rapidly.”

Of all the fracking-induced earthquakes he and his colleagues studied, 98 per cent occurred in a 150-kilometre band down the Rockies where the subsurface rocks are naturally stressed.

Those stresses aren’t the only way earthquakes are caused.

Artificial temblors are common in Oklahoma, which has little of the underground tension found in Alberta.

But there, Kao said, fluid injection may be big enough to cause problems on its own. Injection rates are 100 times higher there than in Canada, he said.

Underground stress

Underground stress is probably best understood as a major contributing factor, Kao added.

“It’s more of a competition of all these different factors.”

The work has implications on how fracking should be regulated, Kao said. Regulations may need to be different in different regions, based on the tectonic tension deep underground.

Kao said, in theory, those smaller artificial quakes might be a good thing. They may be relieving tension that would otherwise build up to a larger, more dangerous event.

“We are reducing the occurrence of the future big earthquake,” he said. “Theoretically.”

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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