Kansas Geological Survey

Brian Grimmett / KMUW

A decade ago, Kansans felt an earthquake once every few years. Now ground tremors come regularly. One of the hardest hit areas is Harper County in the south central part of the state.

It’s no coincidence, scientists and state regulators agree, that Harper and Sumner counties are also where massive amounts of wastewater has been pumped below ground by outfits drilling for oil and natural gas.

Q&A: Geophysicist Discusses Kansas Earthquakes

Jun 24, 2016
Marcin Wichary, flickr Creative Commons

Residents in Oklahoma and Kansas have become accustomed to a new reality: earthquakes. They range from so small they’re only detectable by scientific instruments, to so powerful they can crumble brick walls.

Justin Rubinstein, of the United States Geological Survey, has been studying the tremors in this region and determining what’s causing them. The California-based geophysicist sat down with KMUW's Sean Sandefur.

Sean Sandefur / KMUW/File photo

Oil production in Kansas fell sharply last year. According to the Kansas Geological Survey, oil production in the state dropped more than 8 percent in 2015.

Last year's steep decline in production and oil prices has been hard on those who work in the industry as well as those who receive royalties from mineral rights.

Tim Evanson, flickr Creative Commons

The Kansas Geological Survey has determined there is a connection between oil and gas production and earthquakes.

Scientists who plan to measure the water levels in a western Kansas aquifer system this winter say they expect declines similar to those in recent years.

Kansas Geological Survey researchers last year found the groundwater levels in the High Plains Aquifer had dropped an average of 3.5 feet.

That's the second-largest single-year decline they had ever recorded, behind only the 4.25-foot drop measured the year prior.