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Archive for Sunday, February 4, 2001

Lawrence researchers play detective in natural gas mystery

February 4, 2001

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— The path natural gas used to commute from storage caverns to the city of Hutchinson might be as difficult to detect as the gas itself.

An eight-member team of the Lawrence-based Kansas Geological Survey has been in the area since Wednesday, producing a map of underground formations west of Hutchinson, trying to discover how gas could get to the city from Yaggy field, the natural gas caverns that are thought to have leaked gas, leading to two explosions and two deaths.

"The problem with all of this is you're dealing with what you can't see."

Rex Buchanan, Kansas Geological Survey

"The problem with all of this is you're dealing with what you can't see," said Rex Buchanan, the survey's associate director of public outreach.

The workers are using a large truck that sends seismic waves hundreds of feet into the ground. The waves bounce off underground formations and are recorded back at the surface by microphone-like receivers, which send the information to computer equipment stored on a vehicle resembling a golf cart.

The results return in the form of wavy lines representing layers of rock, water and salt. Experts are hoping to locate a route that gas could have traveled to Hutchinson, such as an ancient waterway that was covered by rock millions of years ago. Finding such a canal would help Kansas Gas Service officials know where to locate wells to vent the natural gas. In some cases, the equipment can locate the natural gas itself.

The survey's equipment has been used in the Hutchinson area to locate sinkholes caused by dissolved salt deposits, Buchanan said. But this is the first time for the survey to work on a project like this, he said.

Buchanan said workers hoped to complete the seismic readings on a four-mile strip of land by Tuesday.

He said survey worker Rich Miller has been doing preliminary analysis of the data each evening after testing is complete.

"If he doesn't see something, they'll pack up and leave," Buchanan said. "If they see something, we'll wait and see."

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