Wastewater injections set off a Kansas earthquake binge

Enlarge / Known earthquakes 1867-2013 shown with red triangles, and earthquakes 2013-2016 shown with gray circles—notably clustered in a small area near the Oklahoma border where wastewater was injected underground. (credit: Rubinstein et al/BSSA)

In the past decade, Oklahoma has turned heads as it has joined the list of places where earthquake insurance is a prudent investment. The sudden uptick in seismic activity is due to injections of foul wastewater into deep disposal wells—triggering what are known as “human-induced earthquakes.”

The Okie state hasn’t been entirely alone in this, though. Because geology doesn’t respect state lines, the oil and gas wells producing all this wastewater—and the deep, salty aquifer it has been pumped down into—extends into Kansas. And a new study led by Justin Rubinstein of the US Geological Survey confirms that they have been causing earthquakes there, too.

While Oklahoma actually experienced some structural damage in several earthquakes, Kansas hasn’t seen anything stronger than a magnitude 4.9 that shook some items off of shelves. But between 2012 and 2016, southern Kansas had six magnitude 4 or larger quakes, which seems far from normal.

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