Here’s what experts say about this week’s earthquakes

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Earthquakes in Kansas are not a new phenomenon, but they are becoming more prevalent, especially in the Wichita Area. Prior to Dec. 8 2020 most of the earthquakes felt in Kansas were from wastewater injection in Southern Kansas and Northern Oklahoma wells. 

This week multiple earthquakes have occurred in the Wichita area.

Although the idea of an earthquake is unsettling, William Parcell, WSU’s Geology Department Chair, said that damage is unlikely to occur at the magnitude of earthquakes that Kansas is currently seeing. He stated that with the current magnitude of earthquakes Kansas is feeling, damage is not necessarily happening, however cracks in walls are possible.

“Having [earthquakes] around is concerning, but you’d start to be concerned about actual structural damage… we’d start to see around 4.0 or 5.0,” said Parcell. “We have had earthquakes in the same area going back a hundred years, so this is not necessarily new, It feels new.”

Although we likely will not know the exact cause of Wichita’s earthquakes, Parcell believes that because of the amount of wastewater injected into Southern Kansas and Northern Oklahoma wells, it is likely that this is the cause for the recent earthquakes.

“What we do know is that from Wichita going North East towards Kansas City and up into Iowa, there is a large buried fault system throughout there,” Parcell said. 

Parcell said that over time, the water injected into these wells has spread underground and is now disrupting faults that run close to Sedgwick County. 

“There were studies in the past couple of years that showed that those injection wells down in Northern Oklahoma and Southern Kansas, that the water they injected didn’t stay put, it started to move out along these deep layers underground,” Parcell said. “As it moves out, it changes the pressure in other places, and it is possible that it may be connected.”

For students interested in learning more about earthquakes and geology, Parcell recommends any of the introductory level geology classes offered by the department, and for those interested in looking at how many earthquakes occur on a daily basis the Kansas Geological Survey and USGS each have maps detailing where and when earthquakes occur, and the magnitude and depth of these earthquakes.