Wastewater injection well application triggers opposition


April 28, 2017

BURDICK, Kan. (AP) — An application to inject wastewater from oil and natural gas operations into a well in an area of east-central Kansas that is near a fault zone and national park is garnering opposition.

Some of the critics gathered this week at Emporia State University for a demonstration. Among the signs that opponents carried, one read: "No drills in the hills," a reference to the well's proposed location 14 miles from the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in an area known as the Flint Hills. The site tells the story of a once abundant landscape that has been largely wiped out by human settlement, cattle-grazing and farming.

The Kansas Corporation Commission is gathering public comment through June 15 on the application from Quail Oil and Gas for the Morris County well. Wray Valentine, of Quail Oil and Gas, didn't immediately return a phone call or email message from The Associated Press.

His company's proposal calls for pumping up to 5,000 barrels of wastewater per day into a well near the Nemaha Ridge-Humboldt fault zone. That's just a fraction of the wastewater pumped into wells in the south-central part of the state where injection-induced earthquakes have occurred, Tandis Bidgoli, an assistant scientist for the Kansas Geological Survey, told the AP.

But concerns have arisen that a new well could trigger moderate- to large-magnitude earthquakes because the fault zone is among the largest in the state and extends into parts of Oklahoma and Nebraska. Earthquakes have occurred there infrequently, and the survey is researching the fault zone's earthquake potential in part because of an uptick in seismic activity in the state, Bidgoli said.

Already, the number of wastewater injection wells in Morris County has been growing, from 13 in 2010 to 20 in 2015. And about a third of the wells in 2015 were permitted to inject at least 5,000 barrels a day, according to data from the Kansas Corporation Commission.

Bidgoli said that precedent would make it difficult for regulators to deny the latest permit.

"We've been surprised," she said of the opposition to the latest application. "Why this permit? Has the public appetite for risk changed? And that may be it. I don't know if it's just the Flint Hills location."

Emporia State student Emily Velazquez was among those to attend this week's campus demonstration, which was organized by the ESU Greens student group and a community group called Flint Hills Stewards.

"I'm opposed to the injection wells because if there is even a minimal chance it could affect our community with earthquakes, that is enough reason to be opposed," she told The Emporia Gazette. "Injection wells create more risk of harm than the benefits of having them."


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