Zack Pistora, legislative director 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 state 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 HB 2641 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 scattered across the state that would be impacted 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 that provide very little benefit but are an attempt to advance a political agenda," said Ed Cross, the president of the Kansas Independent Oil and Gas Association.
Meanwhile, Pistora says he hopes the bills will start a productive conversation, even if they don’t all get hearings this year.
Brian Grimmett is an energy and environment reporter for KMUW’s 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.