Kansas task force seeks answers to earthquake increase
Wichita Supporters of the oil and gas industry are urging a three-member, governor-appointed task force to avoid jumping to conclusions in its study of whether man-made activity is causing a rise in earthquakes across south-central Kansas.
In the past seven months there have been 56 earthquakes recorded in Kansas, most in the south-central region, The Wichita Eagle reported. Though inconsistency in the number of monitoring stations in the state makes it hard to know how that number stacks up against previous years, most observers agree Kansas is seeing more than normal.
In other states that are reporting a rise in temblors, hydraulic fracturing — also known as fracking — has been identified by geologists as the most likely cause. Fracking uses a mixture of sand, water and chemicals under high pressure to release oil or gas from rock.
“In Kansas, there’s no evidence that the earthquakes are being caused by fracking,” said Rex Buchanan, interim director of the Kansas Geological Survey. “For what the committee is doing, we’ve haven’t had much of a conversation about fracking as a potential for what we’re talking about.”
Still, the oil and gas industry has seen a steady rise in production since 2004, especially over the past year in south-central Kansas.
There has been speculation that the fracking process is injecting too much salt water — nearly 7.5 barrels for every barrel of oil collected, with a higher rate for gas — into disposal wells and creating pressure on faults.
The task force met Wednesday with about 85 stakeholders at Newman University. In addition to Buchanan, the other committee members are Kim Christiansen, executive director of the Kansas Corporation Commission, and Mike Tate, chief of the Bureau of Water for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
“There is no silver bullet to induced seismicity,” Hal Macartney, a geoscience adviser for the petroleum industry, told the group. “Earthquakes are unpredictable.”
Because there is so little knowledge about fracking’s effects, Buchanan said, people “start to point fingers in all sorts of directions” anytime there is an unusual event.
The oil and gas industry employs 67,000 in the state and provides $5 billion in wages to employers and producers, said Ed Cross, president of the Kansas Independent Oil and Gas Association. With that kind of economic impact, supporters are nervous about the possibility of additional regulations.
The task force plans to sort through comments from its various meetings and present recommendations to Gov. Sam Brownback sometime this summer.
A lack of data has become an issue for the task force. Kansas has a 25-year gap with very few seismic monitors, with the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers providing 15 through 1989. Since then, the state has had only two.
Both are provided by the U.S. Geological Survey, but the one near Manhattan isn’t working very well, said Rick Miller, a senior scientist in the exploration services section at the state’s geological survey.
Under proposed legislation, the state would purchase six monitors and place them to enhance coverage. They would cost $300,000 for the first year and about $3,000 a year after that.
“Until we get more information and data, coming up with an action plan is going to be really kind of hard,” Rep. Kyle Hoffman, a Coldwater Republican, said after the meeting. “We just need to be careful we don’t have a knee-jerk reaction.”