Archive for Saturday, January 17, 2015

Kansas quakes likely caused by disposal of saltwater that results from oil and gas fracking process

January 17, 2015


Kansas officials have been reluctant to link the mysterious earthquakes in south central Kansas to fracking, but last week they said for the first time the temblors are likely caused by disposal of the waste water that is a byproduct of the oil and gas extraction process.

“We can say there is a strong correlation between the disposal of saltwater and the earthquakes,” Rick Miller, geophysicist and senior scientist for the Kansas Geological Survey, told the Journal-World.

It's the first time state officials have so clearly stated the likely cause of the earthquakes, which are afflicting a region where fracking is widely used.

During hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” for short, operators use a mixture of saltwater and chemicals to break tight underground rock formations to release oil and gas. To get rid of the water after the fracking process, operators inject the water deep into disposal wells.

Naming the cause of the earthquakes is, in part, a matter of semantics. Questions have long been raised about whether fracking activity is causing the earthquakes, and officials in other states have concluded that it has. But Kansas officials consider the waste water disposal a separate process, and so have not considered the fracking itself to be the key factor in the quakes.

At issue now is what, if any, action to take. The state’s Sierra Club chapter wants Kansas to follow in the steps of New York, New Hampshire, Maryland and numerous local governments nationwide and call a moratorium on fracking. Others, including Lawrence Rep. Tom Sloan, ask where the nation will get energy if the option is off limits.

Also at issue: Fracking has been a common practice for a long time, but the earthquake spike is relatively new. What changed?

More earthquakes

The number of earthquakes in Kansas went from none in 2012 to more than 120 in 2014, the Kansas Geological Survey has said.

On Thursday, for example, a swarm of earthquakes hit Caldwell and Anthony, and Guthrie, Okla., during a 12-hour span, according to the USGS Earthquakes Hazards Program. The largest, magnitude 3.6, was just south of Caldwell.

In other states with a surge in earthquakes, including Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas, scientific studies and government officials concluded more than a year ago that the temblors were likely the result of injecting saltwater into disposal wells.

But in Kansas, experts have said they were unsure what was causing the earthquakes. Were they manmade or were they naturally occurring?

Gov. Sam Brownback a year ago appointed the Induced Seismicity Task Force to study the problem, and its report released in September said there was not enough evidence to link Kansas earthquakes to the hydraulic fracturing process.

Rex Buchanan, director of the Kansas Geological Survey, recently told the Journal-World that the confusion over the cause of Kansas earthquakes may be “a matter of semantics.”

Buchanan said most questions from reporters and the public were related to fracking and earthquakes — and not disposal of saltwater and earthquakes.

Buchanan said he does not consider disposing of the leftover saltwater to be part of fracking.

“That distinction is tough for some people, and some people see it as semantic distinction,” Buchanan said. “I like to be technically precise about what is going on here.

“If someone were to say these earthquakes were caused by fracking, there might be one or two, but there is no evidence for it,” Buchanan said. “The issue of saltwater disposal is completely different.”

Buchanan said that the task force's charge by the governor was to study the quakes and come up with a plan to address them. That charge did not include determining the cause of the earthquakes.

A leader of the Sierra Club, which opposes fracking, said he was surprised to learn about Buchanan's need for precise verbiage to explain the cause of the Kansas earthquakes.

“He is not being sincere,” said Joe Spease, chairman of the Kansas Sierra Club's fracking committee and owner of a renewable energy company in Overland Park.

“It is so ridiculous, this issue of semantics,” Spease said. “There are millions of dollars in property damages happening, and we have our scientists playing word games.”

The Kansas Sierra Club supports a bill, not yet introduced, to impose a moratorium on fracking to give the oil and gas industry time to develop a solution to the saltwater disposal issue, Spease said.

“If the government and the Kansas Corporation Commission care about the people of Kansas and the damages, they will order a moratorium,” Spease said. “If they only care about the profits of the oil and gas (industry), it will be business as usual. I hope that is not the case.”

Something changed

Sloan, a Lawrence Republican who has broad knowledge of state and federal energy issues, said a moratorium would have a detrimental impact on the economy.

“If you want to stop the hydraulic fracturing or the depositing of liquid in disposal wells, where do you want to get your oil and gas to meet your needs in America?” Sloan asked. He has served on a number of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission committees and task forces.

“How do you draw the line ... as you are trying to come to terms with this? If you don't allow fracking, you will shut down the entire industry,” he said.

Sloan said experts have a good idea of why the saltwater disposal is causing earthquakes.

Fracking, he said, has been done for decades. Kansas is where the technique was developed, and saltwater disposal was done safely without causing earthquakes until recently.

One thing changed: For years there was only vertical drilling. Now there has been an increase in horizontal drilling, a process that requires much more water, which eventually must be disposed of.

“The basic process of storing those liquids has been done safely for decades,” Sloan said. “I think it is a pressure or volume factor. The question is are we pumping it down too fast? Are we putting it in the wrong strata?”

Sloan said the Kansas Geological Survey and scientists around the country along with the industry are working to answer those questions.

Government scientists also are working to find alternative ways to dispose of the water. So far those alternatives, such as transporting the water to another site or stripping the salt and other chemicals from the water, are too expensive, industry experts have said.

In Kansas, the geological survey scientists have installed additional seismographs in Harper, Sumner, Sedgwick and Kingman counties to measure the unusual seismic activity, said Miller with the survey.

Miller said scientists have seen seismic activity moving northward through Oklahoma into southern Kansas and are trying to get a better understanding of why.

“If the gradual northward movement continues, we can watch it,” Miller said. “There is some thought it will move eastward.”

Something that may help Kansas is that most of the major drillers such as ExxonMobil have left the state for Oklahoma and Texas, which could reduce the number of new injection wells, Sloan said.


Thomas Kurata 3 years, 2 months ago

I thought Rep. Tom Sloan was Republican. The article says he is Democrat. Did Rep. Sloan's party affiliation change recently?

Kelly Schueman 3 years, 2 months ago

Are Republicans against learning? They know fracking causes earthquakes. They can't predict where , because the mid-west's faults are not mapped. We have the history of New Madrid, though, so this is irresponsible.

Andy Anderson 3 years, 2 months ago

Common sense dictates, fracking lubricates the cracks which allows smooth sliding of opposing forces. Therefore, tremors are less impactful to the structure.

Thomas Bryce Jr. 3 years, 2 months ago

Andy, it also causes plates to shift that would Not have normally shifted. Is that concept too "complex and Erudite" for you?

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 3 years, 2 months ago

Andy is a conservative. They don't believe in science.

Kelly Schueman 3 years, 2 months ago

There are intelligent people on both sides. I've learned to watch voting records. I side with Democrats most of the time, but I've known some very messed up Democrats, and some great Republicans.

Andy Anderson 3 years, 2 months ago

Fracking is the Chiropractor of the Earth.

Bent on attacking all things out of their control, this is hard to conceptually assimilate among the Complex erudite critical thinkers walking the Earth , but, so be it.

Kelly Schueman 3 years, 2 months ago

It is far to possible that this could wake the New Madrid fault . Poor Oklahoma! They now have earthquakes daily, and Kansas must be connected to the same fault.

Steve King 3 years, 2 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

Andy Anderson 3 years, 2 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

Joe Blackford II 3 years, 2 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

Ken Lassman 3 years, 2 months ago

So Rex and other geologists out there--I've found Evans and Newell's background circular on the Mississipian Limestone formation that is the center of most of the fracking activity in our state to be quite useful:

According to another helpful website: , I understand that the preferred injection site for briny effluents from these wells seems to be into formations below the Mississipian Lime strata, which is presumably in the Devonian formation, correct? How exactly are these fluids forced into these wells, and how are these volumes kept down there? Is it just a matter of drilling down far enough vertically to create a void large enough to accommodate the large volume of liquids, then capping it with some impermeable top? Do you have information you can point me to to better understand these injection wells? And what is it about the injection wells that you think triggers the seismic activity: sheer volume? pressure? depth? composition of the fluids?

Kelly Schueman 3 years, 2 months ago Oklahoma had none of this before fracking. National Geographic s article .. I have been concerned about the use of people like Rick Berman, a lobbyist for most big money interests. He creates lies for his clients, and then he finds ways to spread them. Earth quakes have been happening in several places in the country where they have never been before. Kansas, Ohio, ...

Marc Wilborn 3 years, 2 months ago

Would disposal of the salt water in another fashion be a solution or is it really fracking? If fracking is the problem then I would hate to be the SD banks holding the mortgages on all of those new homes bought with fracking dollars.

James Howlette 3 years, 2 months ago

Don't worry on that. Banks always get bailed out. It's the worker that gets screwed.

Mike George 3 years, 1 month ago

Please explain why you refer to SD banks. Because there are purportedly lots of big banks there, or because they are taking care of area business?

Scott Burkhart 3 years, 2 months ago

Here is my question. California withstands hundreds of earthquakes and tremors every year, yet they continue to thrive and live with the rock and roll. So the Earth shakes once in a while. Big deal. These are minor and the economic benefits far outweigh the inconvenience of a little movement. This is much ado about nothing.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 3 years, 2 months ago

So if you home is cracked up for a man made earthquake it won't bother you?

Bob Reinsch 3 years, 2 months ago

Denton, Texas was the birthplace of fracking, and they have banned fracking. This is a link to a Reuters story, republished in Fox Business News in November of last year.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 3 years, 2 months ago

"So far those alternatives, such as transporting the water to another site or stripping the salt and other chemicals from the water, are too expensive, industry experts have said."

So now that there is finally evidence that these quake are being caused by the fracking companies, all the people who have suffered damage should start a class action suit that would make the stripping of the salt and other chemicals seem like a bargain. Or has all of their puppet politicians passed a law saying their masters, the oil companies, aren't responsible for anything they destroy? In that case, let's sue the companies and any politician who voted for it.

Richard Heckler 3 years, 2 months ago

These fracking earthquakes as some of us know are not new information.

Sam Brownback is not an authority on the matter he is just another .........

Where there is fracking there are new surges in earthquakes according to what I read.

Also according to what I read this fracking oil is considered low grade which makes ask what could could this do to vehicle fuel systems once gasoline becomes a product. Toyota suggested to us not to use gasoline with ethanol so we cannot assume substituting a low grade product for a higher grade product will not have a negative impact.

With Koch money,ALEC money and the ALEC GOP wanting to destroy the clean air act ....hmmmmmmm.

Richard Heckler 3 years, 2 months ago

Earthquake risks are also a serious consideration. Oil and gas production using hydraulic fracturing is not generally associated with earthquakes detectable at the surface.

Rather, concern about seismic activity stems primarily from the deep injection of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing operations.

This wastewater injection has been linked to large earthquakes, such as one earthquake on November 5, 2011 that was felt in 17 states.

Richard Heckler 3 years, 2 months ago

Scores of earthquakes in Ohio are related to Fracking according to a very recent New York Times article.

The Koch Boys and Koch oil spend more on misinformation than Exxon-Mobile so I read. Koch Oil is heavily invested in this fracking nonsense. Big investment in Canada.

MerriAnnie Smith 3 years, 2 months ago

Cracks me up... pun intended.

They're now admitting what everyone else always knew. Fracking is most likely what is causing the earthquakes. How difficult is that to admit?

Apparently it was pretty difficult before the national election in November. Had to keep the Tea Party happy with them until the election was over.

Bob Reinsch 3 years, 2 months ago

A link to a NatGeo story citing excessive rainfall as being the trigger for earthquakes. I can't help but wonder about the similarities between heavy rainfall and forced injection of saltwater and a hundred other undisclosed chemicals into the earth.

James Howlette 3 years, 2 months ago

Awwww - it looks like vapid sesquipedalians can't handle critical input.

Gene Ramp 3 years, 1 month ago

I'm sure fracking also correlates well with the floor cracks at the new rec center…

Commenting has been disabled for this item.