Archive for Monday, January 26, 2015

Kansas geologist says fracking not the cause of earthquakes

January 26, 2015, 5:52 p.m. Updated January 26, 2015, 10:33 p.m.


— The state's top geologist said Monday there is no evidence to suggest the recent spike in earthquakes in south-central Kansas is directly related to a controversial drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking."

But he said it probably is related to a byproduct of oil and gas production, whether fracking is used or not, which is the massive amount of saltwater that comes out of oil and gas wells and is later injected into disposal wells farther below the surface.

"To be absolutely clear, we have no reason to believe that this seismic activity is caused by hydraulic fracturing," said Rex Buchanan, interim director of the Kansas Geological Survey.

He also said there appears to be no correlation between the quakes and the times when drilling companies are engaging in "fracking" operations. But he said there does seem to be a correlation between the increased number of quakes and the increased use of injection wells to dump the saltwater that comes out of the drilling process.

"While we have been disposing of saltwater in disposal wells in Kansas for decades, today's horizontal wells are generally more productive in terms of oil and saltwater than traditional vertical wells, thus requiring more high-capacity wells to get rid of saltwater," Buchanan said.

From 1977 to 2012, he said, there were only 34 earthquakes in Kansas that were strong enough to feel. But there were 115 such quakes in 2013 and 2014.

During that time, there was also a big increase in both the number of injection wells in Sumner and Harper counties and the volume of saltwater being stored in those wells.

He also said the agency would need about half a million dollars a year in additional funding to beef up and operate a permanent network of seismic monitoring stations to get better data about where and how the quakes are occurring.

Buchanan and other state officials briefed the House Energy and Environment Committee about the recent spike in seismic activity, especially in Sumner and Harper counties where oil production has also increased in the last two years.

Those quakes have become a source of growing concern in the area, especially after one temblor in November in Sumner County that registered 4.9 in the Richter scale, the largest quake ever recorded in Kansas.

That's still considered light by geological standards, enough to cause objects on a shelf to shake and rattle. But the increased frequency of the quakes, especially in a state that had barely seen any since monitoring began in 1867, has raised public concern, and some residents have even reported property damage.

"We were seeing some locations, particularly in Harper County, where people were reporting small cracks in foundations and walls," he said.

Buchanan said that for many years, there was very little monitoring of seismic activity in Kansas because there was so little to monitor. But since 2013, when activity began to increase, both his agency and the U.S. Geological Society have set up a temporary monitoring network in order to pinpoint when and where the quakes are occurring.

From the data collected so far, he said, the U.S. Geological Survey now believes there is a fault line below the surface that runs diagonally from southwest to northeast in Sumner County, south of Conway Springs.

If it can be shown that the quakes are related to injection wells that are too close to a fault line, Buchanan said, the state would have several options for responding, such as reducing the volume of those wells and limiting the locations for new permits.

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Steve King 3 years, 4 months ago

Well it depends on what your definition of "it" is. Fracking produces the waste that causes the quakes. Stop fracking, stop producing waste, stop quakes. Sheesh. Why do you guys beat around the bush? It's an accessory in crime if you will. Find a better way.

Ron Holzwarth 3 years, 4 months ago

Salt water can be processed into fresh water in desalination plants. The technology is well established and in use in Israel, although it isn't terribly cheap at the moment. How do you think the Israelis made the desert bloom?

And of all things, they're fracking, and coming up with all that salt water, right where there's so much complaining that the Ogallala Aquifer is being depleted.

2 + 2 = 4

Cille King 3 years, 4 months ago

"...they're fracking, and coming up with all that salt water,..."

You make it sound like they are finding the salt water in the ground, instead of what they are doing - using 5 million gallons of fresh water for every fracked well and turning it into salt water (with carcinogenic chemicals) and pumping that into the ground.

Ron Holzwarth 3 years, 4 months ago

The salt water is injected into the ground to get rid of it. Did you miss that part? That's what the problem is.

The salt and other chemicals can instead be removed, and the water can then be used for irrigation or whatever else it is needed for, instead of being injected into the ground.

When you read what I write, you should pay close attention to what I actually write, and not what it might "sound like" to you, because I choose my words very carefully.

Cille King 3 years, 4 months ago

Ron, I understand the problem of salt water injection. The Kansas League of Women Voters are just finishing a study on the impact of fracking on water supplies and quality. That's where I learned (among other things) that a fracking well takes 5 millions gallons of fresh water for each well. And I did read and reread your comment.

Anyway, I goggled and found this interesting article on cleaning fracking water:

"$5 billion (£3 billion) is the estimated annual cost for disposing of contaminated water produced during shale gas extraction. Now, researchers in the US have developed a new technology that could reduce the cost of dealing with this water by 30–40%.

Hydraulic fracturing, the process used to extract oil and gas from underground rock formations, produces over 20 billion barrels of contaminated water every year. Current methods, such as underground injection, to dispose of these vast quantities of contaminated water have risks, including a chance of initiating earthquakes. Reuse of this water avoids disposal issues, but requires multiple treatment processes to remove contaminants such as salts and organic hydrocarbons."

Kendall Simmons 3 years, 4 months ago

Actually, weren't really clear. I also went "huh?" when I first read what you actually wrote.

The thing is, regardless of what you meant to say, your use of the phrase "coming up with" was confusing, if not misleading to someone not familiar with the process...particularly when describing something being injected down into the ground. Perhaps a better choice of words would have been "disposing of"?

Heck, no matter how clear we may try to be, ALL of us make the occasional mistake because, no matter how hard we may try, choosing our words very carefully ultimately depends only on what we think is clear.

Ron Holzwarth 3 years, 4 months ago

This article presents nothing new. Does anyone besides me remember what happened in Denver, Colorado in the 1960s?

Some clips from:

In 1961, a 12,000-foot well was drilled at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, northeast of Denver, for disposing of waste fluids from Arsenal operations. Injection was commenced March 1962, and an unusual series of earthquakes erupted in the area shortly after.

It was 32 minutes after 4 a.m. on April 24 when the first shock of the Denver series was recorded at the Cecil H. Green Geophysical Observatory at Bergen Park, Colorado. Rated magnitude 1.5, it was not strong enough to be felt by area residents. By the end of December 1962, 190 earthquakes had occurred. Several were felt, but none caused damage until the window breaker that surprised Dupont and Irondale on the night of December 4. The shock shuffled furniture around in homes,,,

Over 1,300 earthquakes were recorded at Bergen Park between January 1963 and August 9, 1967. Three shocks in 1965 -- February 16, September 29, and November 20 -- caused intensity VI damage in Commerce City and environs. [...]

  • and

During 1968, ten slight shocks were felt in Colorado. Only one, on July 15, caused minor damage at Commerce City. In September of that year, the Army began removing fluid from the Arsenal well at a very slow rate, in hope that earthquake activity would lessen. The program consisted of four tests between September 3 and October 26. Many slight shocks occurred near the well during this period.

  • and

Funny, but the large number of earthquakes the Denver area experienced subsided a few years after the Rocky Mountain Arsenal stopped pumping waste water into the well.

  • and

So if someone says that hydrofracking and fluid injection into those wells absolutely didn't cause the earthquakes yesterday (such as some of the commentators to this rec list diary by kavips claim, well, I would treat that conclusion with a fair amount of skepticism at this time. I can assure you of this much: Human activities which pump large volumes of fluids deep underground have been shown to cause earthquakes according to the US Geological Service. Large numbers of earthquakes were shown to have occurred in Colorado in the 60's because of the pumping of millions of gallons of waste fluids into a well maintained by the Rocky Mountain Arsenal.

Therefore, to claim that hydrofracking activity, which also pumps massive volumes of fluids deep underground, had nothing to do with yesterday's earthquakes would be jumping to a conclusion that is unwarranted at this time. We don't know, but it is a legitimate hypothesis that should be followed up and looked at very carefully considering the past history of fluid injection into wells drilled deep underground that led to earthquakes.

Ken Lassman 3 years, 4 months ago

C'mon Peter, you covered nothing new in this reportage. How about educating us about the growing waste water disposal challenges, detailing the potential solutions to the problems that are being explored, the "traffic light" protocols being used to limit wastewater injection into a given well, and the monitoring and economic challenges that are driving the continued use of injection wells? Repeating the same old story with the same old points is a bit like continuing to inject wastewater into a well that has proven to trigger seismic activity: lots of grumbling is bound to occur!

Andy Anderson 3 years, 4 months ago

The best way to assimilate this analysis is to use a long, tried, true reaction. Denial.

There has been tens of thousands of fracking wells drilled. The largest quake supposedly caused by the thousands of wells was maybe a 3 on the scale?

Californians laugh at the all the hub bub created from the outlandish emotional concern over a 3. But, from my observations, perspective has never been a quality used by complex emotional people.

Ron Holzwarth 3 years, 4 months ago

I was once reclining on a couch in California, and watching a movie late at night, all alone. Then, there was an earthquake. Not a big one, but the timing was amazing.

It took a moment, then I realized that the movie wasn't really that good. It really was an earthquake.

Kendall Simmons 3 years, 4 months ago

I was in a car at a stop light in LA. The car started to shake and I was worried something was wrong with the car. My California friends laughed at me and pointed to the hanging stoplights waving back and forth. "It's an earthquake, silly." Then I knew why their all their stoplights (at least back then) weren't on poles!!

Mark Rainey 3 years, 4 months ago

You might consider broadening your information sources.

Joe Blackford II 3 years, 4 months ago

The KGS elfs sat upon KIOGA's shelfs, Pulling salt water taffy.

It's NOT fracking, the elfs recited, a laffing, To say so is daffy.

We know who pays, for our wanton ways, Pulling salt water taffy.

Rex, the temp top elf, on KIOGA's shelf: "To say so is daffy."

Hard to comprehend all this TRIPE from the coauthor of "Roadside Kansas: A Traveler's Guide to its Geology and Landmarks." Suppose a KGS directorship is that prestigious?

Jim Russo 3 years, 4 months ago

I hope that someone who is knowledgeable about the fracking industry can answer this question: do the fracking companies contract out the disposal of the waste water? In other words, do the frackers own the disposal wells and the equipment used to inject the water back into the ground?

If there are two separate entities (frackers and injectors), I'd imagine the debate over what part of the process leads to earthquakes is not a matter of semantics, but one of potential liability.

This is all speculation on my part, so I hope the reporter or an informed source can enlighten us all.

Ron Holzwarth 3 years, 4 months ago

Maybe the oil producers have liability insurance. If they do, I bet it's pretty expensive.

Jim Russo 3 years, 4 months ago

Perhaps their insurance in this case is being able to place the blame on someone else--the companies that own and operate the injection wells. (Assuming the frackers and injectors are separate entities. I'm still waiting for an answer to my question above.)

Armen Kurdian 3 years, 4 months ago

Remember that a correlation does not mean there is a cause & effect, that is a classic error made by people who want to draw conclusions from statistics. Continuing to study the problem would be a wise move to place more monitoring stations near wells, use underground radar, ultrasonics, etc. It may still prove exceedingly difficult to prove a direct causal relationship between a human activity and a natural one, however with enough empirical evidence you could draw a theory.

Could be that these multiple minor quakes are actually beneficial in terms of slowly releasing tectonic stresses that could otherwise release all at one in a damaging quake, like the New Madrid quake of 1811.

Andy Anderson 3 years, 4 months ago

...I hypothesized that fracking creates lubrication that lessens tremors of those involved. But, the Complex thinkers dismissed the obvious fact.

James Howlette 3 years, 4 months ago

Part of the problem may be that you don't know the difference between hypothesis and fact.

Ron Holzwarth 3 years, 4 months ago

Distortions in journalism are commonly presented as a primary message, it's called propaganda. And, propaganda is very often unquestioningly accepted as news by uncritical people. The only way to avoid it is to read a variety of news sources from around the world.

If you do that, you'll realize that just about all journalism is propaganda that caters to governments, popular prejudices, or historical untruths. The truth is always somewhere in between what the various news sources claim.

Sam Crow 3 years, 4 months ago

Signal: " I suspect, is a paid mouthpiece for the fracking industry."

Article: "The state's top geologist."

"Rex Buchanan, interim director of the Kansas Geological Survey.".

It would appear he is a state employee rather than a mouthpiece for the industry.

James Howlette 3 years, 4 months ago

He's not the state's top geologist. He's interim head of KGS. He's got a master's in agriculture journalism and not a PhD in geology. The KGS is actually part of KU, not the state government.

I don't think he's necessarily a paid mouthpiece of fracking, btw.

Larry Sturm 3 years, 4 months ago

Injecting salt water deep in the earth is part of the process so fracking is causing earthquakes.

Randall Uhrich 3 years, 4 months ago

The KGS is supported by and exists for the oil and drilling industries, so, of course, they had to deny a correlation between fracking and earthquakes. It's just a matter of semantics. CYA!

Armen Kurdian 3 years, 4 months ago

If that's true, why did they go on to say that they believe there is some connection to oil & gas production but are just not sure what it is? You don't know anymore about what is causing the increase in temblors than I do. To draw a conclusion based on what was presented in the article is completely impossible.

The same can be true of those who said we needed to drill baby drill when oil was $140/barrel. Now we know that wasn't the problem, nor was it ever.

If there is a man-made cause to this, then it should be studied and made known, but racing to conclusions based on events that have not proven to be connected doesn't help anyone.

Sam Crow 3 years, 4 months ago

A conspiracy behind every thought that disagrees with yours.

3 years, 4 months ago

I feel for Rex as he is in a tough spot. During the Gov's first term the word went out to all state agencies that had any jurisdiction or regulatory authority at all over oil and gas and its waste products in Kansas that NOTHING would be allowed to stand in the way of expanding the extraction of hydrocarbons in Kansas... NOTHING... means do not find any reason or dissent in any manner or you will no longer be employed by the state - sad but true. The actual act of fracking does not cause earthquakes in Kansas - the process by which oil is extracted and then how the waste water (brine) is handled is the cause. No doubt about that. Everything else is simply semantics - when a tremblor finally is severe enough to damage the infrastructure and buildings in the toxic cesspool that is Sedgewick County and people get hurt , then and only then will heads roll. That's when guys like Rex will be blamed and the KCC will cry we didn't know and KDHE will stick it's collective head in the Gov's back pocket and play stupid like they always do... Our state is heading round and round into the center of the toilet. Thanks Brownback.

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