Earthquakes Increase in Kansas Task Force Can’t Pinpoint Why

September 9, 2014

There’s not enough data to make any determinations about why there has been an increase in the number of earthquakes in Kansas, a three-member task force appointed by Gov. Sam Brownback has concluded.

The state has experienced 49 earthquakes this year through late August, an unusually high increase over previous years, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Fingers frequently have pointed at the gas and oil industry and a practice called hydraulic fracturing, a drilling method also known as fracking, which uses a mixture of sand, water and chemicals under high pressure to release oil and gas from rock.

The industry has seen a steady increase in production since 2004, particularly over the past 18 months in south-central Kansas, The Wichita Eagle reported. There has been speculation that injection creates pressure on faults and triggers earthquakes or induced seismic activity.

But the task force Brownback appointed eight months ago hasn’t been able to draw that conclusion.

“I don’t know that anybody thought we were going to be able to come out of this with a definitive answer in such a limited amount of time to something so complex,” Rex Buchanan, chairman of the task force and interim director of the Kansas Geological Survey, told The Eagle.

Most of the 49 Kansas earthquakes this year were in Sumner and Harper counties, Buchanan said, with magnitudes ranging from less than 2.0 to 3.7.

The task force is calling for installation of six permanent monitors to help improve the research. Since 1989, the state has relied on information from two monitors operated by the Geological Survey, including one near Manhattan that doesn’t work very well.

Kansas also relies on information from about 30 monitors in Oklahoma.

It would cost about $200,000 to purchase and install the six monitors, according to the task force’s report. Annual operating costs would be about $80,000, including the ability to electronically transmit the data in real time to the Kansas Geological Survey headquarters in Lawrence.

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