Terri-Jane Yuzda

Will an Earthquake Strike Alberta?

In B.C. it’s a given that all buildings be engineered and designed to be earthquake-resistant. But what about Alberta?

Many Albertans might think that ours is an earthquake-free province. But, as Dr. Garry Rogers reminds us, this has not always been the case.

Rare earthquakes do occur in Alberta, usually along the ancient fault lines of the Rocky Mountains and foothills. The last one, in 1984 in the Crowsnest Pass, measured 4.7 but did little damage.

“Alberta is just outside the edge of where most of the damaging earthquakes occur,” says Dr. Rogers. “But you still get the odd earthquake. And if they occur, they can shake and damage large high-rise buildings many miles away in cities like Calgary. So it’s necessary to put earthquake-resistant design into those buildings.”

Dr. Rogers says most of today’s buildings are well designed to withstand earthquakes.

“The buildings and structures that have gone up in the last few decades are really state-of-the-art. And they’re constantly getting better, as we learn more. The real vulnerability in our cities right now isn’t the new buildings, but the older structures, 50 years or more. And there are quite of few of these throughout our cities.”

According to Dr. Rogers, advanced earthquake design can also protect oil and gas pipelines and the like.

“Generally, oil and gas pipelines survive shaking very well, unless they’re on a fault rupture or are buried by a landslide. But even in these cases, industry is taking steps to address this. In Alaska, the pipeline that moves from the north slope down to Valdez has been designed to allow the pipeline to move up to 15 metres in an earthquake, using large Teflon sliders, so that it doesn’t break.

“And thanks goodness they did that. Otherwise, last year’s earthquake in Alaska would have caused a major oil spill.”

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