Kansas Plans Seismic Monitoring System After Series of Quakes

November 17, 2014

On the same day that Kansas marked its strongest earthquake of the year, Gov. Sam Brownback announced that the state will buy monitors to track increased seismic activity in three south-central counties.

The epicenter of Wednesday’s 4.8-magnitude earthquake was near the town of Conway Springs, about 25 miles southwest of Wichita, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It also rattled parts of Oklahoma and was felt in one northwest Missouri county but caused only minor structural damage. No injuries were reported.

Kansas began experiencing an upsurge in earthquakes starting in fall 2013, and so far this year has experienced 94, said Interim Kansas Geological Survey director Rex Buchanan.

The rise in quakes in Kansas and other states has raised suspicions that the shaking might be connected to the oil and gas drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing, especially the wells in which the industry disposes of its wastewater. But a panel commissioned by Brownback said in a report earlier this fall that there wasn’t enough evidence to link the Kansas quakes to oil and gas exploration.

The group asked for more monitoring to gather data. On Wednesday, Brownback announced the state would spend about $85,000 to buy a six-station portable seismic network for Harper, Sumner and Barber counties, where most of the quakes have occurred and where fracking has contributed to a steady rise in gas and oil production.

“Public safety is my top priority,” Brownback said in a news release. “We must balance the safety of all Kansans, and consider the impacts to industry. This deployment will give our state geologists the data they need to better understand the increased seismic activity being experienced in south-central Kansas and to formulate a plan going forward.”

The Kansas Geological Survey expects the monitoring stations to be working early next year.

The most severe damage was reported Wednesday in Milan, in Sumner County town, where the town’s former post office and a community center both suffered structural damage, according to The Wichita Eagle.

Terry and Howard Yale cleaned up broken glass and floors covered with items that fell from shelves at their Milan home.

“Every cabinet in this house was open” after the quake, Terry Yale said. The couple said they tried to buy earthquake insurance after the tremors started but said they were told they had to wait until the area went 60 days with no tremors, which hasn’t happened yet.

Like many residents, Howard Yale blames the increased number of quakes on hydraulic fracturing for oil in the region.

“You can put two and two together,” he said. “You just can’t put all that water underground under high pressure and not expect something to happen.”

The strongest earthquake in Kansas’ recorded history was a magnitude-5.1 quake in Manhattan in 1867, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

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