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New Research Predicts Fewer Earthquakes In Kansas

New research out of Stanford University shows that limiting wastewater injection is helping to prevent man-made earthquakes in Kansas and Oklahoma.

The researchers have created a new physics-based model that can better predict where man-made earthquakes will occur by looking at increases in pressure. The model shows that the number of earthquakes is driven by how much wastewater is being injected into the ground.

“It is clear that the key to managing the seismic hazard related to induced earthquakes is managing injection rates,” said  Cornelius Langenbruch, one of the authors of the study.

Previous prediction methods relied on looking at past seismic activity to predict future activity. But that method isn’t very effective when earthquakes are being caused by an external force; in this case an increase in pressure caused by large amounts of wastewater from oil and gas operations being injected into the ground.

Langenbruch said injection limits put into place by state regulators have made a difference. His model predicts that at current injection rates, the number of widely felt earthquakes in Kansas and Oklahoma will decrease to as few as 100 by 2020. That’s down from the thousands of earthquakes felt in the area at its peak in 2015.

"Based on our model we can make scientific decisions about how to optimize injection rates in space in time to mitigate the seismic hazard," he said.

He said the maps can also be used to identify the probablity that a damaging earthquake will happen close to homes or critical infrastructure.

The research was published in Nature Communications and funded by several major oil and gas companies.

Brian Grimmett reports on the environment and energy for KMUW in Wichita and the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio, KCUR and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. Follow him on Twitter @briangrimmett.

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

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.

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I seek to find and tell interesting stories about how our environment shapes and impacts us. Climate change is a growing threat to all Kansans, both urban and rural, and I want to inform people about what they can expect, how it will change their daily lives and the ways in which people, corporations and governments are working to adapt. I also seek to hold utility companies accountable for their policy and ratemaking decisions. Email me at grimmett@kmuw.org.
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