Permit for oil production in Flint Hills draws protests, fears of future earthquakes

About two dozen people, most from central Kansas, gathered outside the Kansas Corporation Commission office in Topeka to protest a permit granted in September for an oil drilling company to operate injection wells in the Flint Hills.

? About two dozen demonstrators gathered outside the Kansas Corporation Commission headquarters Thursday to protest a permit the agency granted last month for an oil drilling company to operate saltwater injection wells in Morris County in the Flint Hills.

The KCC granted that permit Sept. 21 to Quail Oil & Gas LC, based in Garden City, despite objections from landowners in the area who say the wells are likely to induce earthquakes and open fissures in the ground that could cause the wastewater to contaminate their underground wells.

“What the oil and gas company spokespeople always want to tell you is that most wells have not been linked to an earthquake,” said Cindy Hoedel of Flint Hills Stewards, an informal group that gathered on Facebook to raise awareness about the project. “Actually, none have. It’s impossible to link one well to one earthquake, but the U.S. Geological Survey has said no question about it, all of the earthquakes in Kansas are caused by fracking wastewater injection.”

Hoedel, who lives in nearby Chase County, was one of several residents of the area who filed objections to the proposed permit when the KCC was considering Quail Oil’s application. In it, she said the area where the injection wells would be located, known as the Nemaha Uplift, “is riddled with faults, some of which project to the surface and some of which are historically active.”

“High-volume injection of fluid has the potential to lubricate and destabilize these faults with possible earthquakes,” she wrote.

But Wray Valentine, who manages the oil company, said in written testimony to the commission that placing injection wells there would reduce truck volume, noise and dust that would be generated if the company had to haul the wastewater by truck to disposal wells elsewhere in the state.

In addition, Lee Shobe, an independent geologist who testified on behalf of the company, said there is no evidence to suggest the well would induce seismic activity because “there is no recent record of seismic activity in the area even though injection is occurring in such area.”

Morris County, located just northwest of Emporia, about 100 miles southwest of Lawrence, is far removed from the area in south-central Kansas where hundreds of earthquakes have been recorded in recent years.

Hoedel said her group decided not to appeal the KCC permit after an attorney told them they had little chance of success.

But Jessica Skyfield of Prairie Village, who is part of another Facebook group, @Kansas Water, filed a motion with the KCC Thursday asking for a rehearing, alleging there were procedural errors in the permitting process.