The Fracking Link

Follow the latest developments in the search for answers on how the disposal of wastewater from fracking might be linked to the increase in Kansas earthquakes.

Geophysicist Dr. Justin L. Rubinstein talks about the reason there has been an increase in earthquakes around Oklahoma and Kansas which is not due to only fracking in those areas during his free lecture at the Cosmosphere Saturday morning. 

  • By Tim Carpenter The Topeka Capital-Journal

TOPEKA – The decision by state regulators to limit injection of saltwater deep underground after drawn to the surface by oil producers coincided with diminished intensity of earthquakes in south-central Kansas, a state geologist said Tuesday.

ANTHONY – Staff of the Kansas Corporation Commission and members of the governor’s task force on seismic activity informed the Harper County Commission Tuesday they’ll recommend to the KCC it continue for at least another six months restrictions on deep saltwater disposal wells in Harper and…

With restrictions in place less than three weeks, officials with the Kansas Corporation Commission say “it’s too early to reach any conclusions” about whether the limits on wastewater disposal are resulting in a reduction in quakes. The News obtained figures through a Freedom of Information request that showed that during 2014 oil producers injected more than 110.32 million gallons of wastewater beneath two counties.

The Kansas Corporation Commission late Thursday issued an order requiring producers in several areas of Harper and Sumner counties to significantly reduce the amount of waste saltwater being injected into underground disposal wells due to the increasing number of earthquakes in the region.

A bill introduced last week proposing a moratorium on saltwater disposal wells in Harper and Sumner counties and the creation of an “earthquake risk pool” to help cover earthquake damage in the state will apparently die in committee.

  • The Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY – A SandRidge Energy injection well has been ordered shut down because of numerous earthquakes near the well in north-central Oklahoma.

Much like traffic lights that regulate vehicles, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission is using a green, yellow and red light system to address earthquakes.

How frequent have the earthquakes become?

Kansas began measuring seismic activity in 1977. From 1977 to 2012, there were just under 200 earthquakes recorded in Kansas.  After a period of relative quiet, in 2013 there were 31 earthquakes recorded in the state.  In 2014 that number jumped to 160. So far in 2015 nearly 600 earthquakes have been recorded.  

How Strong Are the Earthquakes?

The average magnitude of Kansas earthquakes recorded since 2013 is 2.46, which is slightly higher than the average 1.97 recorded from 1977-2012. However 85 percent of recent earthquakes register less than 3.0 and are unlikely to be noticed. Even a 3.0-3.9 earthquake may be mistaken for a passing truck.

So far the strongest earthquake was recorded near Conway Springs on Nov. 11, 2014. It measured 4.9 on the Richter scale, strong enough for Kansans in the northern part of the state to feel it and to knock items off shelves in homes closer to the epicenter.

To date there have been fewer than 10 earthquakes in Kansas that registered above 4.0.

Are the earthquakes strong enough to cause damage?

Even the strongest earthquakes recorded in Kansas in recent years have not caused widespread damage to buildings. But minor damage is possible when earthquake magnitude reaches 4.0. Dishes and windows can be broken and unstable objects can fall. Kansas' larger earthquakes have been thought to worsen damage to Harper County’s courthouse, and a 4.9 earthquake in 2014 damaged a bell tower at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Harper. Geologists also say that because the Kansas earthquakes occur much closer to the surface of the earth than typical earthquakes, the ground shakes longer which could increase damage.

At what earthquake magnitude is serious damage possible?

Earthquakes typically begin to cause damage to buildings and other structures at magnitudes of 5.5 and higher. A 5.6 earthquake in Prague, OK, in November 2011 buckled U.S. 62, destroyed at least 14 homes and injured two people. Some suspect that earthquake was triggered by wastewater injection.

Will earthquake insurance cover me?

Concerned about the growing frequency of earthquakes, some property owners are seeking earthquake insurance. While may insurance carriers offer earthquake policies for Kansas residents, be sure to read the fine print. Some policies have exclusions, and may exclude the man-made or "induced" earthquakes like geologists believe Kansas is experiencing. Deductibles also vary among insurers, and some coverage may not kick in unless there is catastrophic damage.

Are the earthquakes related to fracking?

Fracking itself is likely not the cause of the earthquakes. But recent evidence gathered by geologists suggests there is a link between the disposal of fracking wastewater into deep disposal wells and the increase in the number of earthquakes in the region. As oil and gas production in the region has grown, there has also been a sharp rise in the number of disposal well sites in southeastern Kansas. For more information, click the links below.

Is Kansas doing anything to address the earthquakes?

In 2014 Gov. Sam Brownback appointed a task force to study the cause of the seismic activity, and the state installed more monitoring stations. Prompted by increasing geologic evidence of a link between fracking wastewater disposal and earthquakes, the Kansas Corporation Commission in March 2015 imposed daily wastewater injection limits in Harper and Sumner counties and further limited disposal levels in five specific areas of “seismic concern.” Earthquake frequency did drop over the summer, but was on the rise again in September. In October there were over 100 earthquakes, the most seen in any month so far.

Could more be done to stop the earthquakes?

The Kansas chapter of the Sierra Club fought for legislation that would shut down wastewater injection sites in the five Kansas counties in that lie in the Humboldt fault zone. "There are other injection wells around state where we don’t know of any earthquake activity. At least move disposal of waste fluids there while investigations are conducted and don’t create such an enormous risk,” Joe Spease, chairman of the environmental organization’s hydraulic fracturing committee said when the bill was introduced. It died in a House committee meeting in February 2015.

Will oil and gas companies pay for damages sustained during induced earthquakes?

Proving which company is at fault would be nearly impossible. It is difficult to pinpoint which injection well is responsible for an earthquake, and multiple oil and gas producers may use the same well for disposal. Few cases have made it through the courts in other states since induced earthquakes started happening around the country. That's why the Sierra Club proposed a financial risk pool that oil companies operating in the state would pay into be created to compensate people for earthquake losses. The risk pool was part of a bill that died in a Kansas House committee meeting in February 2015.

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