Kansas Governor creates panel to study possible connection between recent earthquakes and oil and gas activities

Governor Sam Brownback has created a 3-person task force to study whether oil and gas activities such as hydraulic fracturing are connected to the increased number of minor earthquakes occurring in south central Kansas, near the Kansas-Oklahoma border. The Kansas Geological Survey has recorded more than 24 minor earthquakes in the past two years. Two earthquakes were recently measured in that area – one on December 16, 2013 and a second on February 3, 2014, with magnitudes of 3.8 and 3.9 respectively. No damage was reported from these earthquakes, with one county official noting that “no cows tipped over.” According to the U.S. Geological Survey, “it is very unusual” to have two earthquakes in the same area in such a short period of time.

Don Blakeman who is a geophysicist with the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colorado, and other scientists have stated that it is difficult to attribute an earthquake to a specific cause. Identifying the cause takes “more study, typically more instruments on the ground and collaboration with companies to know when they are re-injecting fluids” and performing other operations. Currently there are only two monitoring stations in Kansas, and this will hamper analysis.

The panel which will hold its first public meeting on April 16, 2014, at the Wichita State University’s Hughes Metropolitan Complex is made up of Rex Buchanan, interim director of the Kansas Geological Survey; Kim Christiansen, executive director of the Kansas Corporation Commission; and Mike Tate, chief of the Bureau of Water at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

This post was written by Barclay Nicholson (barclay.nicholson@nortonrosefulbright.com or 713.651.3662) from Norton Rose Fulbright's Energy Practice Group.