TOPEKA – A legislative committee will review data about a spike in small earthquakes in Kansas in recent years and ways to lessen their number, amid concerns they are tied to “fracking,” a process used in drilling for hard-to-reach deposits of oil and natural gas, the panel’s chairman says.
Rep. Dennis Hedke, a Wichita Republican, said Tuesday that he hopes the briefing he’s planning for the House Energy and Environment Committee will reassure residents in south-central Kansas, where the earthquakes have been concentrated. He has not set a date for the hearing but said it will be soon.
More than half of the earthquakes recorded in Kansas since 1977 – 232 of 424 – occurred after the start of 2013, according to records complied by the Kansas and U.S. geological surveys – 161 of them last year.
Environmentalists believe hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is to blame, because after reaching previously inaccessible oil and gas deposits, drillers inject millions of gallons of waste water into disposal wells. The Kansas Geological Survey says its “working hypothesis” is that the water-disposal method is possibly linked to the earthquakes.
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“There’s a significant amount of data being built not only by the agencies but by the operators,” said Hedke, a consulting geophysicist whose companies include oil exploration firms.
The Kansas Sierra Club proposed blocking the water-disposal process in Harper and Sumner counties in south-central Kansas until the state creates an industry-financed fund for compensating residents whose property is damaged by earthquakes. But the group’s bill is not likely to be considered this year.
“The briefing is a step in the right direction,” said Sierra Club Zack Pistora. “It’s not going to stop the earthquakes – just talking about it.”
In recent months, the Kansas survey has set up seven stations to monitor seismic activity in south-central Kansas, and the U.S. Geological Survey has another dozen sites in Harper and Sumner counties.
Kent Eckles, a lobbyist for the Kansas Petroleum Council, said the state needs to collect more data before it decides how to respond.
He said legislators are rightfully concerned about people’s safety, but “it would be rash to shut down the entire industry or even do it in a couple of counties.”
Rex Buchanan, the Kansas Geological Survey’s interim director, said scientists haven’t discovered all of the faults in Kansas, and they can’t tie an earthquake to activity at a single water-disposal site.
But he said, generally, “There’s a recognition that the correlation is so strong and the physics make sense.”