So, about this morning’s earthquake

Based on social media, many of you in the Hutchinson area were as shocked as I was with the intensity and duration of the earthquake in Hutchinson on Friday, Aug. 16.

To put it more bluntly, it scared the hell out of me. It seemed to be stronger, and go on longer, than previous earthquakes. I immediately ran outside to see if a truck had rammed into my house, or if a tree had fallen over. It didn’t feel like previous quakes.

I immediately reached out to the Kansas Geological Survey folks to see what they could tell me. I learned that it was a 4.2 magnitude quake, followed shortly after by a 3.3 quake. The epicenter was 1 mile west of the intersection of U.S. 50 and K-96. This is roughly the same area in which the quakes were centered in spring 2018. (Here’s a link to some good refresher material from those quakes, as well as the science of seismic activity in our area). The Class I injection wells in that region are putting less fluid underground, so that’s not likely a contributor. KGS was surprised at the intensity of the quake, but also explained that it’s unlikely we’ll see another of that magnitude for some time. They were clear that it’s not impossible – just unlikely. The energy and pressure required to trigger that level of quake on the fault in that area shouldn’t be available very soon. Basically, the pressure underground builds over a period of time, and when it reaches a level forceful enough, it forces a rupture in a fault. The folks at KGS said that if anyone has concerns or questions, visit the KGS website or call them at 785-864-3965 – and they will be happy to explain the science of earthquakes and answer questions for you. Note: The people at KGS have zero role in regulation or policy. They are scientists, and great resources for understanding what’s happening. But there’s no value in getting upset with them. They gather the data; it’s up to legislators to use that data to create good policy.

Speaking of which….

Last session, I kicked around the idea of putting a fee on every barrel of wastewater created from oil production. That idea was roundly kicked aside, as it was made clear to me that I wouldn’t get an ounce of support for it – even though I planned to exempt small producers from the fee. So I changed gears, and started looking at ways to help the KGS gather more, and better, data on what is happening in the Arbuckle formation – which is where we inject most of our waste water. I introduced this bill, which would have created a one-time fee of $100 for disposal wells, and the money would have been used to finance the drilling of monitoring wells in the state, so KGS could get a clearer picture of what’s happening in the Arbuckle. No one, even those representing the oil industry, expressed an objection to gathering more data. Nevertheless, this bill didn’t get even a passing glance. I had conversations about what it would take to allow the KGS to place monitoring equipment in abandoned, or unused Class II wells, but never got much traction on that before the session ended.

I’m not saying that bill was the answer, or even an answer. But it’s an idea, and we have to start kicking around ideas about how to gather good information on what’s happening underground. The KGS needs the resources to better map the Arbuckle, and the they need to have the tools to accurately measure and report the effects of injecting highly pressurized fluid into that geological formation. Thanks to previous investments, we now have better monitoring stations to track seismic activity throughout the state, after we have an earthquake. Now it’s time to consider if we can make similar investments in proactive tools that can give us good information about what is contributing to this activity, so that we can make fully informed decisions about how to address it.

Or, I guess, we can keep doing nothing and instead spend random mornings watching things bounce off of our shelves.

 

14 Comments

  • Posted August 16, 2019
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    Randy Evans

    I appreciate the fact that you are trying to get something done! Please keep trying! I have lived in Kansas all my life (66 years) and never felt an earthquake, until a year or two ago, after fracking was done in the area. All of the quakes in Oklahoma have also greatly intensified with all of the fracking done there. It seems highly irresponsible to not pursue
    action to reduce or halt fracking. Injecting high pressure poisonous fluids deep into the earth is an insane idea, in my opinion!

  • Posted August 16, 2019
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    Marcia boos

    If you are 100 percent sure the injection Wells have caused the quakes, maybe a solution, but what about the water that comes naturally will cause erosion, causing the Earth to move, the removal of salt has caused weaknesss underground and could be the reason for the Earth movement. I’m not a scientist but there are very places in the world with huge oil production, injection wells you don’t see increased sesmic activity. Injection Wells have been around forever in oil production, earthquakes blamed on them, last 10 years maybe? Doesn’t make sense to me

    • Posted August 16, 2019
      Jason

      Jason

      There is a clear correlation. If you review what was presented last year, it’s clear that when there’s an increase in fluid pressure in the Arbuckle, that is often followed by seismic activity. So there’s little chance of denying the connection. It’s true that increased fluid pressure alone won’t cause a quake; that requires the presence of a fault. We now know there’s a fault structure near the U.S. 50 and K-96 intersection. It’s been there for longer than any of us, so it’s important that we study what is happening in this formation so we can better understand how to approach any possible solutions.

  • Posted August 16, 2019
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    Ande Hall

    What can we do to support your efforts?

    • Posted August 16, 2019
      Jason

      Jason

      I think right now the best thing is, educate, inform and talk about this with others. I’m hearing stories about people suffering injury from falling ceiling tiles, etc. – but haven’t been able to confirm it. If that’s happened, I want to talk to them. Then, as we move toward the session with some plan or legislation, I’ll need help convincing more reluctant lawmakers to get on board. Nothing really ever changes without the voice of the public. If enough people help apply pressure, we might be able to get some movement. What I’m looking at isn’t onerous – I just want to find a way to give KGS the tools they need to give us a clearer picture of what’s going on. I can’t even imagine that anyone could find objection with that.

      • Posted August 16, 2019
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        Christine Pechstein

        Agreed!

  • Posted August 16, 2019
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    tim howard

    yep im stupid

  • Posted August 16, 2019
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    Joni M Gold

    Thank you so much for educating and your dedication to helping others understand that injection wells have definitely contributed to these earthquakes

  • Posted August 17, 2019
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    Keri Strahler

    Jason, I’m not sure how this might fit into the dilemma, but consider that our National Parks, protected under the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act, are being leased out, or auctioned off to the Oil and Gas Industry under the current administration. Americans demonstrate an insatiable consumption of limited resources while the premiums on wind are still high due to lack of investment and limited availability, (eminent domain, easements). In your endeavor to regulate drilling, perhaps try to look at the big picture objectively. In doing so, all stakeholders might feel more welcomed to work with you.

  • Posted August 17, 2019
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    michelle bauck

    After attending the meeting last year with state officials, it is known that these earthquakes are man made, the severe ones we have seen in the last few years certainly. They told us that. If there is no interest in the legislature in addressing this, maybe we should file a class action lawsuit against the salt companies in and near South Hutch. Since these quakes are all centered there, this would at least get some attention paid to the problem and who knows, maybe bring about a solution. As for damages, anyone who has looked at the streets in their neighborhood or has seen new cracks in the basement floor and outside foundation–which we have–can claim damage; and that doesn’t count the many people who received damage yesterday.

  • Posted August 17, 2019
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    Steve Sims

    The problem is not the science. The correlation is undeniable. The problem is accountability. It doesn’t matter if it’s small fracking operations; any change or enforcement of policy is going to set precedents which will affect Big Oil. Nobody is more aware of what is going on, with their cadre of geologists, accountants, portfolio managers, insurance agents, and attorneys. The Qui Bono trickles down… money trumps justice, er “just-us…”

  • Posted August 18, 2019
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    Ron

    I’m not one to meddle in Kansas politics, but I can say this. ANY damage from this quake and others that can be determined to have been caused by fracking should be the responsibility of the companies that are doing it. There’s probably not enough policies that cover “acts of God” or specialty insurance policies that cover “Earthquake damage”. That’s usually an add-on (at least it is out here). The KGS information gathering path is obviously a great step, but it did cause injuries. It did cause damage. There needs to be a fund setup to pay claims from those waste water fees you suggested. I think you’re on the right path. Just wish you had more support.

  • Posted August 18, 2019
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    Lisa Lou

    KGS said unlikely we will see another one that strong for sometime…… I wonder what they have to say now? I am guessing they were implying more than 2 days later.

  • Posted August 18, 2019
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    David

    I have not seen any drilling of new or old wells in the area of the quakes. So what is going on?

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