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Environmentalists Duel With Drillers Over Kansas Earthquake Legislation

Kansas Geological Survey
Saltwater injection wells, like this one in southeast Kansas, are the focus of proposed legislation aimed at reducing the earthquakes linked to them. The industry says targeted regulations in specific counties already address the issue.

Zack Pistora of the Kansas Sierra Club was worried about the number of earthquakes in the state and wanted to do something about it.

“Those earthquakes can cause damage to people’s homes, businesses, public buildings,” he said. “Right now there’s no recourse for those Kansans who get affected.”

So Pistora and a few others brought the issue to legislators. The result is several bills aimed at putting stricter regulations on the wells oil and gas producers use to inject wastewater back into the ground. The slate of bills makes changes to the public notice requirements for new wells and would create a fund to help pay for damage caused by the earthquakes tied to drilling.

“If we still have earthquakes caused by the industry,” Pistora said, “ the industry should be accountable for that.”

One of the bills would also put a statewide cap on the amount of wastewater that can be injected into the ground each day. On Thursday, that bill, HB2641, received a hearing before the House Water and Environment Committee.

Kansas regulators told legislators that a statewide cap isn’t necessary. They say the only injection wells linked directly to earthquakes are in Harper and Sumner counties, which already have caps in place.

Ryan Hoffman, director of the Kansas Corporation Commission Conservation Division, said scores of wells that would be impacted scattered across the state show no connection to increased earthquakes.

That’s why, the industry says, a statewide cap would hurt oil production without reducing earthquakes.

“All these bills are based on misleading and inaccurate data,” Ed Cross, the president of the Kansas Independent Oil and Gas Association, “that provide very little benefit but are an attempt to advance a political agenda.”

Meanwhile, Pistora says he hopes the bills will start a productive conversation, even if they don’t all get hearings this year.

Brian Grimmett, based at KMUW in Wichita, is a reporter focusing on the environment and energy for 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. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.

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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