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Stories focused on energy & environment topics throughout the state of Kansas.

KU Research Could Help Predict Man-made Earthquakes

The number of earthquakes striking south-central Kansas has skyrocketed. This map shows the 2,522 earthquakes that occurred from May 2015 to July 2017 in all of Sumner County, small segments of Sedgwick County to the north and a portion of Harper County

A recently published study by the University of Kansas is providing new insights into south-central Kansas’ recent increase in earthquake activity. 

The study, published in Science Advances, shows that waves coming from the Kansas earthquakes thought to be induced by wastewater injection wells differ from the waves coming from earthquakes that happened before extensive oil and gas activity.

KU professor of geology George Tsoflias says the different waves they detected indicate the ground in that area has something called high pore fluid pressure.

“That tells us that that region in the subsurface may be susceptible to induced earthquakes,” he says.

Most wastewater injection wells aren’t linked to induced seismic activity. And until now, there hasn’t been good way to know whether a wastewater injection well would cause an earthquake, until it did.

But Tsoflias says by looking at the waves produced by earthquakes, they can begin to make a map of which areas have high pore fluid pressure and therefore high risk, and which don’t.


Follow Brian Grimmett on Twitter @briangrimmett.

Coverage of energy and the environment is made possible in part by ITC Great Plains and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.

Brian Grimmett is a two-time Regional Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist covering energy and environment stories across the state of Kansas.