Fracking and Earthquakes Topic at Water Conference

September 14 quake in Harper County may have been 'induced seismic activity' says KGS scientist.

Published on: Nov 1, 2013

Over the last 24 months, there has been a huge increase of oil and gas exploration in the Mississippi Lime formation of southern Kansas.

At the Governor's Conference on the Future of Water in Kansas in Manhattan on Oct. 24 and 25, the impact of that development was up for discussion.

David Newell with the Kansas Geological Survey said it is possible that the huge increase in exploration and the disposal of waste water into the Arbuckle formation just above bedrock, has actually created earthquakes in northern Oklahoma and southern Kansas.

Induced seismic activity?

"There was a 2.9 Richter Scale earthquake in Harper County on Sept. 14 in a heavily drilled area," Newell said. "Is this an induced seismic event? We don't know."

FRACKING TALK: Rex Buchannan, interim director of the Kansas Geological Survey, right, introduces David Newell who talked to the Governors Conference on the Future of Water in Kansas about horizontal drilling and fracking in Kansas.
FRACKING TALK: Rex Buchannan, interim director of the Kansas Geological Survey, right, introduces David Newell who talked to the Governor's Conference on the Future of Water in Kansas about horizontal drilling and fracking in Kansas.

In Kansas, the heaviest horizontal activity has been in the southern-most tier of counties in central Kansas.

Kyle Murray with the Oklahoma Geological Survey also addressed the group. He said there has been a huge increase in the number of earthquakes of magnitude greater than 3.0 in Oklahoma and it is possilbe that the large volumes of water injected into the zone just above bedrock may be inducing seismic activity, especially if disposal wells are located near a critically stressed fault.

"I can't say that there is a connection and I can't say that there isn't a connection," Murray told the group. "What I can say is that we are studying the issue and trying to understand the distribution of pressure in thee Arbuckle. Our thinking right now is that in areas where the water flows into the disposal well with no need for added pressure to force it into the formation, there is probably not going to be an issue. In cases where it takes added pressure to inject the water, if that area overlies a fault, then the additional pressure might induce seismic activity."

There will be more stories about hydraulic fracking, its impact on water supplies and new regulations on the disclosure of chemicals used in fracking fluids in the December Kansas Farmer magazine.