Diminishing Depth to Water in Cambrian-Ordovician Arbuckle Group Disposal Wells in Kansas

  • K. David Newell Kansas Geological Survey
  • Shelby Peterie Kansas Geological Survey
  • Michael Killion Kansas Geological Survey
  • Brandy DeArmond Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Bureau of Environmental Remediation
  • Carrie Ridley Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Bureau of Water/Geology
  • Rolfe Mandel Kansas Geological Survey
  • Rex Buchanan Kansas Geological Survey
Keywords: Arbuckle Group, Kansas, Class I disposal well, Class II disposal well, hydrostatic surface, pieziometric surface, hydrostatic gradient, subsurface water chemistry, depth to water, subsurface flow


Industrial and municipal wastewater and oilfield brines have been disposed of into the Cambrian-Ordovician Arbuckle Group for decades in Kansas and nearby states in the midcontinent United States. The industrial and municipal wastewater disposal wells (designated Class I disposal wells) are regulated by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. The oilfield brines are disposed of in Class II disposal wells, which are regulated by the Kansas Corporation Commission. Annual testing of formation pressure and static fluid levels in Class I wells compose a body of data that is useful in monitoring movement of water and fill-up of Arbuckle disposal zones. In western Kansas, the depth to water in wells penetrating the Arbuckle can be several hundred to more than a thousand feet (305 m) below ground surface, but in parts of southern and southeastern Kansas, the depth to water locally can be less than 100 ft (31 m). Furthermore, most Class I wells indicate Arbuckle fluid levels in central and south-central Kansas are rising ~10 ft (~3 m) annually, suggesting that at current disposal rates, the Arbuckle may lose its capacity to accept wastewater under gravity flow in parts of the state in the next few decades, principally south-central and southeastern Kansas along the Oklahoma state line. At present in parts of six Kansas counties along the Oklahoma state line, low-density (~1.0 g/cc or slightly greater density) wastewater in a wellbore does not have a sufficient hydrostatic head by gravity alone to force its way into the more dense resident Arbuckle formation water.

In general, Arbuckle formation water flows west to east in Kansas. Arbuckle disposal wells in Kansas collectively dispose of ~800,000,000 barrels (~127,000,000 m3) of wastewater per year, although some of this is recycled from Arbuckle oil production. Declines in oil price since mid-2014 have resulted in less oilfield disposal in the Arbuckle since 2015. The number of Class I wells recording annual fluid rises have also declined since 2015, as has the median of their annual change in static fluid level, but overall, more Class I wells are still recording fluid rises. There is a poor correlation between changes in fluid levels in Class I wells and the volume of fluid disposed in them annually, thereby indicating that more regional characteristics may control water movement in the Arbuckle. More monitoring wells are needed to better understand the movement of water in the deep subsurface and to anticipate any potential problems that may occur with reduced disposal capacity and possible migration of fluids through unplugged or improperly plugged older wells.


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