Region not likely to see dramatic increase in earthquakes

Several earthquakes have rattled Ellis County recently, but the area is not likely to see an increase in tremors like those that have occurred in south-central Kansas and north-central Oklahoma, the director of the Kansas Geological Survey said.

In parts of southern Kansas and especially northern Oklahoma, an increase in the number and strength of earthquakes during the last few years has been linked to disposal wells, in which waste water from oil drilling and other industries is injected deep into the earth.

A magnitude 5.6 earthquake that struck near Pawnee, Okla., that was felt across six states on Sept. 3 prompted the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to order 35 disposal wells shut down.

Three earthquakes originating from north of Ellis shook the surrounding area late Thursday night and early Friday morning. The strongest of those was magnitude 3.3.

Those followed a magnitude 3.5 quake Wednesday morning and a magnitude 3.2 quake Aug. 31, also from the same area. A light 2.5 magnitude quake also occurred that day approximately 8 miles north of WaKeeney.

Rex Buchanan, interim director of the KGS, said his agency has been in touch with the Kansas Corporation Commission to see if there has been any increase in disposal wells or other activity.

The KCC is the branch of state government that oversees regulations for various industries, including oil and gas production.

“This stuff may very well be induced, but it’s not the result of this big ramp up of dramatic increase in salt-water disposal like we’ve seen in south-central Kansas,” he said.

“It’s a somewhat different situation.”

Buchanan said the series of earthquakes appear to be similar to incidents that happened in Rooks County beginning in June 1989 into the early 1990s. Then, several quakes originated from the Marcotte Oil Field south of Palco. The largest of those was a magnitude 4 and caused minor damage.

“That was not the result of some dramatic increase in saltwater disposal so much as it was the effect of some smaller wells drilled close to a fault that then triggered that fault movement,” he said. “Right now, that’s sort of what this looks like, but it may be early to say.”

Whether or not the same fault line or a previously undiscovered fault line is involved is difficult to say, Buchanan said.

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