Land subsidence caused by dissolution of salt near four oil and gas wells in central Kansas

Water-Resources Investigations Report 75-27




Collapse of the overlying strata into voids caused by dissolution of salt is the apparent cause of progressive land subsidence at the sites of several oil wells that were drilled through the salt beds of the Wellington Formation in Kansas. The purpose of this investigation was to determine if data from four sites, shown in figure 1, substantiate the hypothesis that corroded, broken, or improperly sealed casing permitted relatively fresh water from the shallow aquifers to circulate within the salt zone and that the resulting brine solution leaked downward into permeable zones that would accept the fluid under hydrostatic pressure.

Strata similar to those penetrated by wells at the four sites (shown in tables 1 and 2) underlie much of central Kansas. Many thousands of oil and gas wells have been drilled through the salt beds, but land subsidence has been reported at few of the sites. Reported sites are near highways, and two well-documented instances of subsidence involve the stability of highway right-of-way. Because many wells have been drilled in remote areas, similar occurrences may remain unreported. The scope of this investigation is limited to the compilation, analysis and interpretation of the available data from four sites shown in figure 1, and the mention of a fifth site.

The photograph (fig. 2) shows a deteriorated casing pulled from a well located between Sites 3 and 4 in western Rice County. The casing consists of inner and outer pipes with the annular space between filled with cement. The almost complete failure of the outer pipe is evident. The casing is believed to be from the well in the concrete pit that is in the lower right of the photograph. The pond in the background is a sink that has developed near the well; detailed historical data, however, were unavailable for further study of this site.

The investigation was requested by the Energy Research and Develop-ment Administration (formerly U.S. Atomic Energy Commission) as part of a study of bedded salt in Kansas as a repository for radioactive wastes. Data for the report were collected from the files of several Kansas State agencies; the Highway Commission, Department of Health and Environment, Geological Survey, and the Corporation Commission. The author particularly wishes to thank V. A. Burgat and W. K. Taylor of the Highway Commission;
B. F. Latta, D. L. Butcher, and M. W. Glotzback of the Department of Health and Environment; and F. W. Wilson of the Geological Survey for information based on personal observations and for resolving apparent contradictions in the available data.

The geologic formations that underlie the four sites selected for this study are described in table 1 and information about the oil and gas wells at the sites is given in table 2.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Land subsidence caused by dissolution of salt near four oil and gas wells in central Kansas
Series title:
Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U. S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s):
Kansas Water Science Center
iv, 28 p.
United States