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At least 8 earthquakes shake Kansas this week with the largest measuring 4.4 magnitude

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At least eight earthquakes have shaken Kansas during the same week that a panel commissioned by Gov. Sam Brownback announced there isn't enough evidence to link recent temblors to oil and gas exploration.

The largest quake, with a 4.4 magnitude, struck just after 1 p.m. Thursday about seven miles southeast of Harper, the U.S. Geological Survey said. People as far away as Wichita felt shaking, and cracked walls were reported.

The quake is the strongest in the state in more than a year, said Interim Kansas Geological Survey director Rex Buchanan. It was followed about thirty minutes later by a nearby earthquake that had a magnitude of 3.4.

Buchanan said another four earthquakes hit the state Tuesday, including one with a 3.8 magnitude, and that at least two were recorded Wednesday. All but one of this week's quakes occurred in Harper County.

"There is no question it is unusual," Buchanan said, adding that in a typical year only three to four earthquakes with a magnitude greater than 2.0 would be recorded.

But Brownback's task force announced Wednesday that there's not enough information to determine the cause and urged additional study. Among its recommendations, the group proposed installing a permanent monitoring network that will allow all earthquakes in Kansas of a magnitude greater than 1.5 to be detected and located. The group also crafted a formula that would trigger additional investigation and possible action. The formula includes factors such as the number of earthquakes and their magnitude.

Brownback has said he looked forward to reviewing the task force recommendations.

The task force, which included representatives from the Kansas Geological Survey, the Kansas Corporation Commission, and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, met five times and held a public meeting in Wichita. Experts were consulted from the U.S. Geological Survey, the Oklahoma Geological Survey and private industry.

Previous studies have shown that earthquakes can be caused when fluid, which is byproduct of various methods of oil and gas production, is injected into disposal wells, the task force noted in its report.

Buchanan, who was chairman of the task force, said modern-day drilling methods produce larger volumes of water. But he said that it's difficult to tell whether that has played a role in the uptick in earthquakes because Kansas has so few seismic monitoring stations. There were just two of them in the state before the USGS recently installed several temporary ones, he said.

"People want to know what is going on, but you can't just guess," he said.

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