Moore Hall in Lawrence

About the Kansas Geological Survey

The Kansas Geological Survey (KGS), a research and service division of the University of Kansas, is charged, by statute, with studying and providing information about the state's geologic resources. The KGS has no regulatory authority and does not take positions on natural resource issues.

Research at the KGS focuses primarily on energy, water, and the environment and addresses natural resource challenges facing the state of Kansas. The KGS also generates new information about the state's geology and develops tools and techniques for studying the surface and subsurface through its geophysics and mapping programs. Primary users of this information include other state, local, and federal entities, such as the Kansas Water Office, the Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC), and the state's groundwater management districts; oil and gas exploration companies; companies and consultants that deal with construction, environmental, and geologic hazard issues; and educators, private citizens, and others who want basic information about the state's geology and resources.

The KGS main headquarters is in Lawrence on the west campus of the University of Kansas, and the KGS Well Sample Library is in Wichita. With a staff of about 115 employees, including 34 student employees, the KGS has an annual state-appropriated budget of approximately $5.8 million. Another $2 million in grants and contracts were awarded in fiscal year 2014. The KGS reports to the Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of Kansas and has a 12-member advisory council to provide review and guidance.

Rex Buchanan is Interim Director of the Kansas Geological Survey.

Energy

The KGS Energy Research section monitors and addresses exploration and development issues related to oil and natural gas through research and presentations. Since 2010, horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing activity in the Mississippian limestone play--a complex group of oil- and gas-bearing rocks--in south-central Kansas has been of particular interest. Drilling in the play slowed in late 2014 and early 2015 as oil prices fell. The KGS is monitoring earthquake activity in the area to determine its relationship with oil and gas production operations, particularly the disposal of saltwater produced with oil and gas. See the "Geophysics" section below for more information about the KGS's network of seismic monitors.

The KGS, with industry and government partners, is conducting a multi-year project to test the safety and efficacy of storing carbon dioxide (CO2) from industrial sources underground. CO2 is a natural and essential component of the atmosphere, but it is also a greenhouse gas--a byproduct of fossil fuels emissions from vehicles and such stationary sources as electric, cement, ethanol, and fertilizer plants. CO2 will be injected deep underground for storage and will also be used to release trapped oil unreachable by traditional recovery methods. In March 2015, an enhanced oil recovery injection well was drilled and cored into a Mississippian-age siliceous carbonate reservoir in the Wellington field in Sumner County south of Wichita. The injection of CO2 is slated for late summer 2015. Berexco, LLC, assisted by the KGS, submitted an application to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to drill a second injection well, this one into the Arbuckle saline aquifer. Up to 40,000 metric tons of CO2 will be stored in the confined aquifer, which is about 4,000 feet underground where water is unfit for human consumption. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) will release funds for this phase of injection pending the EPA's approval of a Class VI well permit. Drilling of the sequestration, or storage, well is planned for 2016.

In another DOE-funded project, KGS researchers evaluated data obtained from a 2,000-foot-long horizontal well drilled into an ancient karst feature--a deeply buried landscape of caverns and sinkholes--that typifies the Arbuckle oil reservoir at the Bemis-Shutts field in Ellis County. The researchers used a new 3-D seismic processing technique to resolve the features and then integrated their findings with well data to create 3-D geomodels that simulate and reproduce the fluid production history in this oil field. Project aims are to validate seismic imaging and processing techniques that can be used to assess whether karst features in the Arbuckle Group can permanently hold injected CO2. Results also could be used to help improve well designs to make oil recovery more efficient.

The KGS has received nearly $21.5 million in cooperative agreement funding from the DOE to help support drilling and evaluation of the wells in Sumner and Ellis counties as well as at a site in Stevens County northwest of Liberal. The funding also supports the creation of an interactive mapping system, Java web applications, and data access that allow users to explore the geology of the subsurface in southern Kansas based on the evaluation of the carbon storage potential for the region.

The KGS also studies and monitors the production of coal-bed methane in southeastern Kansas.

The KGS Data Resources Library and Drill Core Library in Lawrence and Wichita Well Sample Library provide information related to oil and gas production through in-house and website services. The Data Resources Library--the State of Kansas repository for oil and gas records--houses documents for more than 450,000 wells. Records and logs submitted digitally to the state and scans of many of the paper documents housed at the Data Resources Library can be accessed on the KGS website through the oil and gas well database, which is updated daily. Well and field data also can be accessed through the KGS interactive oil and gas field map or by visiting the Data Resources Library.

The Drill Core Library in Lawrence is the repository for more than 55,000 boxes of core and rock samples from more than 4,000 drill holes. The Wichita Well Sample Library (WWSL) is the repository for cuttings from more than 140,000 oil, gas, and exploratory wells. In 2014, the WWSL collected, processed, and preserved 3.35 million sample-feet (or 634 miles) of drill cuttings from 2,088 wells. Samples can be viewed in house or checked out by the public.

The KGS received a grant from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Geological and Geophysical Data Preservation Program to preserve at-risk drilling records and rock cuttings. With the funding, the Data Research Library is preserving and scanning thousands of older oil, gas, and water well records and logs, and the WWSL is re-boxing and preserving cuttings. Several collections of records, some donated and many pre-dating the state-mandated requirement to report drilling activity, are being made available to the public for the first time.

The KCC and the Kansas Department of Revenue provide funding to the KGS for the continued development of online methods of reporting oil and gas information to the state of Kansas. The Kansas Geological Society supports the development of software for the display of digital well logs. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) provides funding for the continued development of online methods of reporting information about newly drilled water wells to the State of Kansas.

Water

The KGS investigates groundwater declines, water quality, and geology of the High Plains aquifer--a massive network of water-bearing formations that underlies parts of eight states and includes the extensive Ogallala aquifer--and other groundwater sources. The High Plains aquifer is the primary source of municipal, industrial, and irrigation water for much of western and central Kansas.

To monitor the condition of the High Plains aquifer and other aquifers, the KGS and the Division of Water Resources (DWR) of the Kansas Department of Agriculture measure groundwater levels, with landowner permission, in about 1,400 wells in 47 western and central Kansas counties every January. Although most of the wells draw from the High Plains aquifer, some draw from the deeper Dakota aquifer or shallow aquifers along rivers and creeks. The results are available online.

The KGS also maintains a Kansas Master Groundwater Well Inventory (MWI)--a central repository that imports and links together the state's primary groundwater well data sets--and continuously monitors and collects data from several western Kansas wells as part of its index-well program. The KGS releases real-time data from three of the index wells through the KGS High Plains Aquifer Atlas, which features more than 70 maps--several animated or interactive--on a variety of topics related to the aquifer. The KGS also recently completed a comprehensive assessment of groundwater quality and quantity in the Dakota aquifer.

Kansas water agencies use a KGS model of the High Plains aquifer in southwestern Kansas for the area in GMD3, one of the state's five Groundwater Management Districts, to assess the impact of pumping reductions on groundwater availability in that portion of the aquifer. The KGS is developing a model of the High Plains aquifer in GMD1 in west-central Kansas. With funding from the DOE, the KGS recently completed a study of the integrated use of surface and subsurface Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) technology for measuring and mapping saturated hydraulic conductivity and porosity in three dimensions. The USGS helped fund a recent KGS study on aquifer storage and recovery in near-surface aquifers through the development of a new recharge approach using small-diameter low-cost wells. The KGS also works with Michigan State University and others as part of High Plains aquifer projects funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

A range of water-level and water-well information is available through the KGS website and the Data Resources Library in Lawrence. Records submitted digitally to the state and scans of most of the paper water well documents housed at the Data Resources Library can be accessed on the KGS website through the WWC5 water well database, which is updated daily. Well data also can be accessed through the KGS interactive water well map or by visiting the Data Resources Library.

Geology

The KGS continues to update and create new county geologic maps, supported, in large part, by the USGS STATEMAP project. The most recently available maps are of Dickinson County in east-central Kansas and Hodgeman and Pawnee counties in west-central Kansas.

The KGS is studying the stratigraphic architecture of the High Plains aquifer, funded by the NSF, the Kansas Water Office, and the USGS. In particular, the KGS used sonic drilling capabilities to recover unconsolidated core from the Ogallala Formation in Haskell County. To date, 28 long continuous cores totaling more than 1,300 meters (4,300 feet) have been collected from study areas in Haskell, Thomas, Harvey, McPherson, Norton, Scott, and Reno counties, with additional new drilling planned in Meade County.

KGS geoarcheological studies include field investigations, funded by KU's endowed Odyssey Archaeological Research Program, at the Scheuerman mammoth site in western Kansas and the Coffey site in northeastern Kansas. Geoarcheology encompasses the investigation and interpretation of sediments, soils, and landforms to help identify areas of potential cultural deposits, date finds, and assess prehistoric environments. Excavation continued in summer 2015 at the Scheuerman site in Scott County where the remains of a 15,500-year-old mammoth was unearthed in 2011. KGS and KU investigators are trying to determine whether the mammoth bones and nearby evidence of tool-making activities can be linked chronologically. In summer 2014, fieldwork was conducted in the flood pool of Tuttle Creek Reservoir at the Coffey site in Pottawatomie County, where chipped stone artifacts were recovered, in search of pre-Clovis cultural deposits dating to more than 11,500 years ago.

A KGS bulletin on the Precambrian Nomenclature in Kansas is now available. Other research projects focus on Cretaceous and Neogene stratigraphy and paleoclimatology of the Great Plains.

Geophysics

The KGS seismic program includes applied research in both reflection and surface-wave techniques. The focus of the program is near-surface imaging and characterization, and the applications range from engineering to groundwater monitoring to public safety. Using seismic reflection techniques, KGS researchers create a vibration--with an explosion or specially equipped truck--that sends seismic (sound) waves into the ground. The rebounding energy, which reflects off different rocks in different ways, is then measured to produce images of underground rock layers. Surface-wave techniques developed at the KGS are designed for site characterization of the upper 100 feet of earth. This characterization primarily targets rock stiffness or strength, which can be estimated from shear-wave velocity. KGS seismic researchers are engaged in locating underground anomalies, such as voids, tunnels, and abandoned mines; imaging rock layers to study groundwater flow and map geologic structures; and appraising subsurface hazards.

In late 2014 and early 2015, the KGS installed a temporary seven-station seismic monitoring network in south-central Kansas with stations in Harper, Sumner, Sedgwick, Kingman, Pratt, Barber, and Comanche counties. The network surrounds an area, mainly in Harper and Sumner counties, where earthquake activity has increased significantly since 2013. The seismic data recorded by the monitors are being used to help determine whether the elevated seismicity is related to nearby oil and gas production operations, especially large-volume wastewater disposal. The purpose of the network is to pinpoint earthquake depths and epicenters; define zones of increased risk; guide installation of a permanent KGS statewide network; help guide future scientific and regulatory responses to the seismic activity; and gather background geologic data for earthquakes at and below magnitudes detectable with other federal and state seismic networks.

Over the last five years, the KGS has received more than $5 million from both federal and private sector sponsors in support of tunnel and void detection research. Prototype technologies developed at the KGS have been deployed around the world.

Information Dissemination

The KGS publishes printed and online publications and maps, both technical and educational, about its research and the state's geology and natural resources. The KGS publication page provides access to the KGS publication catalog; information about KGS maps, open-file reports, and software and USGS topographic maps; and online publications, including "Current Research in Earth Sciences" bulletins, Public Information Circulars, county geologic maps, and select out-of-print bulletins. From 2013 to 2015, the Survey released the following publications and maps:

GeoKansas on the KGS website features online educational information about the rocks, minerals, fossils, and other natural resources in Kansas as well as the location of scenic and geologic places of interest throughout the state. The KGS online photo library provides hundreds of county-by-county photographs of the state's natural resources.

The KGS Data Access and Support Center (DASC)--located at the KGS and operating under the direction of the Kansas GIS Policy Board and Kansas GIS Director--serves as the geospatial data clearinghouse for the state of Kansas. DASC works with KGS geologists, and the DASC database includes Kansas GIS data on water, energy, and environmental resources. House Bill 2175, passed by the legislature in 2012, directs continued funding to DASC through the KGS. Although DASC has been located at the KGS since its inception in 1989, this bill is the first statutory recognition of DASC and its location at the KGS.

The KGS conducts an annual Kansas Field Conference, undertaken since 1995, to give state legislators and other decision-makers a first-hand view of the state and its natural resources. The 2014 Conference was held in central Kansas and the Arkansas River valley. Among the issues addressed were surface water rights, water diversion, and wetlands management; air quality standards; sorghum markets, water use, and ethanol production; oil field treating chemicals and oil refining; harmful algal blooms; and short-line industrial rail transportation. The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism, the Kansas Water Office, and the Kansas Department of Transportation were co-sponsors. Kansas Field Conference guidebooks are available online.

Honors/Milestones

In 2014 and 2015, the following KGS staff members received recognition for outstanding contributions in their field of study:

  • Rex Buchanan, interim director, served as secretary of the Association of American State Geologists, chief of the Kansas Task Force on Induced Seismicity, and a member of the Critical Issues Advisory Program of the American Geosciences Institute.
  • Jim Butler, KGS groundwater hydrologist and senior scientist, served as president of the International Commission on Ground Water, International Association of Hydrological Sciences.
  • Evan Franseen, KGS senior scientific fellow, served as president of the Society of Sedimentary Geology (SEPM).
  • Greg Ludvigson, KGS senior scientist, served as Councilor for Sedimentology for the Society for Sedimentary Geology (SEPM) and as a Sedimentary Geology Division representative on the Geological Society of America (GSA) Joint Technical Program Committee.
  • Rolfe Mandel, KGS geoarchaeologist/Quaternary geologist and a faculty member in the University of Kansas Department of Anthropology, was named a KU University Distinguished Professor.
  • Rick Miller, KGS senior scientist, received the 2014 Life Member Award from the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG) and is serving as treasurer of the SEG Global Board.
  • Susan Stover, KGS outreach manager and geologist, chaired the Geology and Public Policy Committee of the Geological Society of America.

A list of all staff accomplishments, including refereed and non-refereed publications, presentations, abstracts, and awards, is available for 2004-2014 (Acrobat PDF file, 2 MB).