Posted by DeAnn Smith, Digital Content Manager - email
By Stacey Cameron, Investigative Reporter - bio | email
By Kelly Just, Special Projects Executive Producer - email
BURLINGTON, KS (KCTV) -
Fears over earthquakes and the potential damage they might cause to the Wolf Creek Nuclear Generating Station in Burlington are fueling new controversy over the practice of drilling for gas and oil known as horizontal hydraulic fracking.
Every "frac" job in Kansas creates millions of gallons of water too toxic to be cleaned. To dispose of it, oil and gas companies drill a second well where the waste water is injected back into the ground, as deep as two to four miles beneath the earth's surface. It is those wastewater wells shaking up the debate between environmentalists and the oil and gas industry in Kansas.
"If there was an earthquake near that plant that shook it and released any of that radioactive material, the prevailing winds from Kansas would blow that radioactive contaminated air directly towards the Kansas City urban area," said Joe Spease, environmentalist and energy co-chair for Sierra Club Kansas.
In several states where the number of fracking sites and subsequent injection wells has increased, seismic activity is also on the rise. A recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey discovered a "remarkable increase" in earthquakes registering 3.0 or greater on the Richter scale in the central part of the United States.
"They (Arkansas) had more earthquakes in 2010 than in the prior 100 years combined," Spease said. "We're seeing earthquakes in Colorado at levels that we had never seen before in recorded history."
While these unusual swarms of earthquakes did shake up some major oil and gas-producing states, none were centered in Kansas. Ed Cross, chief lobbyist and spokesman for the Kansas Independent Oil and Gas Association, pointed out that the last tremor to rattle the Sunflower State registered a 2.7 on the Richter scale, four years ago.
"In Kansas, we have 18,000 injection wells and we've been injecting, and across the nation, they've been injecting and disposing of water for decades with very little or any earthquakes associated with that," Cross said.
"As we continue to explore for oil and gas and we're successful, there's going to be a high up tick in injections wells," KCTV5 investigative reporter Stacey Cameron said. "Aren't we going to increase the threat of earthquakes here in Kansas?"
"No I don't think so," Cross said. "We have a good idea in Kansas where we're putting the water and what's there."
While Cross was quick to dismiss the connection between fracking injection wells and earthquakes, Oklahoma geologist and man-made earthquake expert, Austin Holland, took a more measured stance.
"We have known for a long time that deep injection can cause earthquakes," Holland said. "And there are some good classic examples, and some more recent examples of injection wells triggering earthquakes."
Among those recent examples is a 4.0 magnitude quake in Youngstown, OH, as well as a 5.3 tremor in southern Colorado and a 5.6 event outside of Prague, OK.
According to Holland, those quakes could be the result of injection wells pumping waste into the ground over a long period of time.
"That's a sustained input into the earth. And that sustained input has time then to allow the pressure and the fluid to migrate out away from the well," Holland said.
When the fracking waste water migrates into an existing fault zone, Holland said that is when a man-made earthquake is possible.
"You're adding pressure to the system that isn't naturally there," Holland said. "And you can actually push a fault apart; slightly change the friction on that fault."
Fracking has been around since 1947. The first well fracked in the United States was located in Kansas.
Horizontal fracking, perfected in the past decade, caused the current drilling boom located mostly in the south-central part of Kansas. The close proximity of those wells to the Wolf Creek plant has Spease sounding the alarm.
"This would be a disaster like we have not seen in this country," Spease warned.
Holland disagreed with Spease's dire prediction of an injection well causing a nuclear disaster similar to that seen in Fukushima, Japan, after that country's earthquake in 2011.
"I don't believe there is an inherent risk, at that sort of magnitude," Holland said. "That's kind of alarmist."
Wolf Creek spokeswoman Jenny Hageman backed up Holland's assessment.
"We are built to safely shutdown and to maintain the reactor in a safe condition in the event of a significant earthquake, especially for our area," she told KCTV5.
Hageman said the nuclear plant was built to handle a quake in the neighborhood of 7.0 on the Richter scale, a number greater than any tremor ever felt in Kansas history.
While Wolf Creek might be protected from an injection well quake, Holland said these types of tremors still pose a minor threat to populated areas with problems such as cracked bricks and toppled chimneys. Holland said he does think states should start requiring geological studies of the areas where oil and gas companies intend to drill injection wells.
"I certainly think that states are going to have to take an active role in examining this and balancing what is right for their economy," Holland said.
Holland even suggested those studies should be paid for by the oil and gas companies.
Cross disagreed, calling that an unnecessary and cost-prohibitive step.
At this point, the Kansas Legislature has no plans to pass any rule like that.
Copyright 2012 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.
Wednesday, May 22 2013 3:40 PM EDT2013-05-22 19:40:35 GMT
Minutes after the tornado reduced an Oklahoma elementary school to rubble, a photographer captured the courage and selflessness that overcame adults at the school in the moments after the devastation.More >
Minutes after the tornado reduced an Oklahoma elementary school to rubble, a photographer captured the courage and love as a scared little boy jumped into the arms of his next-door neighbor. More >
Wednesday, May 22 2013 10:42 AM EDT2013-05-22 14:42:42 GMT
Everyone has seen food permits hanging inside restaurants, but what does it really say about the establishment. Now, people can check if their favorite hotspot made the grade faster than they can cutMore >
Everyone has seen food permits hanging inside restaurants, but what does it really say about the establishment? Now, people can check if their favorite hot spot made the grade faster than they can cut into a steak.More >
Tuesday, May 21 2013 3:29 PM EDT2013-05-21 19:29:04 GMT
For months, concerns had been raised about the welfare of Lucas Webb. Born Jan. 3, 2008, Lucas knew much pain and suffering in his four short years. More >
State records released Monday show how Missouri social workers failed to adequately pursue allegations of abuse involving a preschooler. Lucas Webb, 4, would die five days after the state closed the abuse investigation.More >
Wednesday, May 22 2013 6:21 PM EDT2013-05-22 22:21:12 GMT
(RNN) - British officials are saying one man is dead and two others were injured in a possible terrorist attack in London on Wednesday.According to BBC News, eyewitnesses said man was attacked in a streetMore >
One man is dead after two men attacked him in broad daylight with knives and meat cleavers. More >
Wednesday, May 22 2013 2:56 PM EDT2013-05-22 18:56:54 GMT
(RNN) – Of the 24 killed in the EF-5 tornado that decimated Moore, OK, 10 are children - two of which are infants according to a release by the Oklahoma City Medical Examiner's Office. All the childrenMore >
Six people are still unaccounted for in Moore, OK. Ten children, which includes two infants, were killed by the EF-5 tornado, according to the Oklahoma City Medical Examiner's Office.More >
Wednesday, May 22 2013 2:30 PM EDT2013-05-22 18:30:34 GMT
ORLANDO, FL (RNN) – A man with possible ties to a Boston Marathon bombing suspect was shot and killed after the FBI interviewed him early Wednesday. The FBI confirmed a special agent fatally shot a manMore >
A news release from the FBI Boston division stated the shooting took place early Wednesday when Ibragim Todashev, the shooting victim, started a "violent confrontation."More >
Tuesday, May 21 2013 7:16 PM EDT2013-05-21 23:16:48 GMT
MOORE, OK - The Oklahoma County Sheriff's office tweeted a photo of a frightened, muddy dog Monday after the deadly EF-5 tornado ripped through the town.The comment accompanying the photo said, "scared,More >
A heartbreaking photo of a little dog guarding the body of his owner, who was killed in the Moore, OK, tornado, is going viral.More >
Tuesday, May 21 2013 5:50 PM EDT2013-05-21 21:50:06 GMT
Shawnee police searched along westbound Interstate 70 in Kansas City, KS, Tuesday afternoon, looking for a gun used in a murder that occurred three years ago. Captain Bill Hisle with the Shawnee PoliceMore >
Shawnee police searched along westbound Interstate 70 in Kansas City, KS, Tuesday afternoon, looking for a gun used in a murder that occurred three years ago.More >