- The number of earthquakes in the state of Kansas has spiked in recent years.
- According to some experts, the large number of earthquakes in Kansas is directly linked to hydraulic fracking.
- Disposal wells for the waste water from the fracking process could be the source of the problem.
A large jump in the number of earthquakes in southern Kansas has roused accusations that hydraulic fracking in the region is to blame. Although it is difficult to directly tie fracking to a specific earthquake, a ramp up in fracking in the region in recent years, particularly fracking associated with horizontal wells, has coincided with a rise in seismic activity.
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The Washington Post reports that there were 52 earthquakes in Kansas between October 15 and October 26. Historical numbers from the Kansas Geological Survey show only 19 earthquakes in the state in the 20-year stretch from 1990 to 2010. In addition, the number of annual statewide earthquakes has spiked from only four in 2013 to 817 in 2014.
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How Can Fracking Cause Earthquakes?
Hydraulic fracking involves the process of injecting highly-pressurized salt water and chemicals into wells to break up rocks underground to release oil and gas trapped inside. However, the process also creates a massive amount of waste water which is injected into disposal wells in the ground. These disposal wells could actually be playing a larger role in the seismic activity than the fracking process itself.
Rex Buchanan, interim director of the Kansas Geological Survey at the University of Texas, said that the huge amounts of waste water being pumped into disposal wells is likely the source of the Kansas earthquakes. In Kansas, you produce a lot more saltwater than you do oil in the oil and gas production process, he added.
However, not surprisingly, the oil and gas industry disputes Buchanans conclusion. The likelihood that induced seismic events will occur in properly permitted and operated [disposal wells] is very small, said Edward Cross, president of the Kansas Independent Oil & Gas Association.
Oil services companies have already been under massive pressure from falling oil prices this year. Shares of the Market Vectors Oil Services ETF (NYSE:OIH) are down 19.1 percent in the past six months.
Disclosure: the author holds no position in the stocks mentioned.
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