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.