Dams and Earthquakes

China’s RIS threat a disaster in the making

(February 25, 2012)  The breakneck pace of dam construction in China increases the risk of reservoir induced seismicity. But, without freedom of information and a justice system that allows victims to sue for redress, will killer dams ever come to light? Chinese power companies hope not. Now, an intrepid reporter from Beijing’s Caixin Net is on the trail of unreported RIS cases.

Six killed in 2010 by a dam-induced earthquake in Guizhou, China: still no report on it

By Cui Zheng

This article first appeared in Caixin Net (Caixin Wang) on February 24, 2012 and has been translated by Probe International.

The Guangdong Provincial Seismological Bureau has confirmed that a magnitude 4.8 (M4.8) earthquake that occurred last week in Heyuan, Guangdong Province, was a case of reservoir induced seismicity (RIS).

But, it was not an isolated case. Two years ago, an RIS event occurred on the Beipan River in Guizhou Province that caused the death of six people and injured nine.

The magnitude 3.4 quake, which hit on January 17, 2010, occurred in Anshun City of Guizhou Province in southwest China. According to local media reports, at the time of the earthquake, boulders — “as big as a van” — rolled down the mountain by the shore of the Dongjing Dam reservoir. “Villagers died instantly when they were hit by the falling rocks caused by the earthquake.”

According to the China Seismological Bureau’s website, the earthquake was a case of “reservoir induced seismicity.” As a result, after the incident, relevant departments added more seismic monitoring stations in the reservoir area, and subsequently recorded two more incidences of RIS on October 3 and November 6, 2011, with magnitudes of M2.6 and M3.9, respectively.

After the earthquake, the Guizhou Qianyuan Power Co. Ltd., a branch of Huadian Group and a listed company in the Shenzhen Stock Exchange, issued a statement saying only that the earthquake had no effect on both Guangzhao and Dongjing hydropower stations. The power plants were running normally and no mention was made of any relationship between the impoundment of the Guangzhao and Dongjing dam reservoirs and the earthquake.

On February 24, 2012, a reporter from Caixin Net called Qianyuan Power’s publicity department and was told by the company’s spokesman that he was unaware of any announcement by the company as to whether the filling of the Dongjing Dam reservoir had induced the earthquake. He added that the area surrounding the Dongjing reservoir has always been an earthquake-prone region and that the incident “had nothing to do with the reservoir itself.”

He also told the reporter from Caixin Net that the local government had issued a special document to “refute a rumour” that the earthquake had anything to do with the impoundment of the Dongjing Dam reservoir. As for the casualties caused by the earthquake, the government handled the situation properly, the company spokesman said.

Given that the China Seismological Bureau has concluded last week’s M4.8 quake in Guangdong was an aftershock induced by the Xinfengjiang Dam, and given China’s rapid economic development and the hydropower industry’s breakneck expansion, reservoir induced seismicity is set to become a major threat urgently in need of a disaster reduction strategy.

Further Reading

Hong Kong earthquake an aftershock triggered by Chinese dam 50 years ago

Did the Zipingpu Reservoir trigger the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake?

Controversial Zipingpu dam may have caused China’s deadly earthquake, says Chinese geologist Fan Xiao

Earthquakes, dams and responsibility

Chinese scientist forewarned of deadly Sichuan quake

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