The 2008 Wells earthquake occurred on a northeast-striking, southeast-dipping fault that is clearly delineated by the aftershock swarm to a depth of 10-12 km below sea level. However, Cenozoic rocks and structures around Wells primarily record east-west extension along north- to north-northeast-striking, west-dipping normal faults that formed during the middle Miocene. These faults are responsible for the strong eastward tilt of most basins and ranges in the area, including the Town Creek Flat basin (the location of the earthquake) and the adjacent Snake Mountains and western Windermere Hills. These older west-dipping faults are locally overprinted by a younger generation of east-dipping, high-angle normal faults that formed as early as the late Miocene and have remained active into the Quaternary. The most prominent of these east-dipping faults is the set of en-échelon, north-striking faults that bounds the east sides of the Ruby Mountains, East Humboldt Range, and Clover Hill (about 5 km southwest of Wells). The northeastern-most of these faults, the Clover Hill fault, projects northward along strike toward the Snake Mountains and the approximately located surface projection of the Wells earthquake fault as defined by aftershock locations. The Clover Hill fault also projects toward a previously unrecognized, east-facing Quaternary fault scarp and line of springs that appear to mark a significant east-dipping normal fault along the western edge of Town Creek Flat. Both western and eastern projections may be northern continuations of the Clover Hill fault. The Wells earthquake occurred along this east-dipping fault system.
Two possible alternatives to rupture of a northern continuation of the Clover Hill fault are that the earthquake fault (1) is antithetic to an active west-dipping fault or (2) reactivated a Mesozoic thrust fault that dips east as a result of tilting by the west-dipping faults along the west side of the Snake Mountains. Both alternatives are precluded by the depths of the earthquake and aftershocks, about 8 km and as deep as 12 km, respectively. These depths are below where an antithetic fault would intersect any main fault, and a tilted, formerly shallow and sub-horizontal thrust fault would not extend to depths of more than about 5–6 km.
The east-dipping, high-angle, earthquake fault cuts older west-dipping faults rather than reactivating them, highlighting a change in the structural style of Basin and Range extension in this region from closely-spaced, west-dipping faults that rotated significantly during slip and accommodated large-magnitude extension, to widely-spaced, high-angle faults that accommodate much less total strain over a long time span.