in downtown Hutchinson, a city of 40,000 in central Kansas, heard
or felt the explosion Wednesday morning, Jan. 17, 2001. Natural gas
burst from the ground under Woody's Appliance Store and the adjacent
Décor Shop, blowing out windows in nearby buildings. Within minutes,
the two businesses were ablaze.
That evening, geyser-like fountains of natural gas and brine, some
reaching heights of 30 feet, began bubbling up three miles east of
the downtown fires. The next day, natural gas, migrating up a long-forgotten
brine well, exploded under a mobile home and killed two people.
The city ordered hundreds of residents to evacuate homes and businesses,
many of whom would not be able to return until the end of March.
The Kansas Geological Survey (KGS) stepped into a situation where
demand for answers was great, but information was in short supply.
Fortunately, the KGS had cores preserved in its repository from a
project the Atomic Energy Commission had conducted in the 1960s to
investigate the geology of localities being considered for nuclear
Practically unused for more than 30 years, these cores contained
information that could be obtained rapidly — and without the time
or risk of drilling into another unknown gas pocket.
Geologists examined these and other cores and samples from wells
drilled in the area to get a sense of the potential paths for gas
flow through the rock.
Armed with this information, obtained using geoscience data and
collections, the KGS gathered new seismic data around the city, from
which two anomalous zones of potential high gas pressure were identified.
The gas had migrated eight miles from a leaking salt cavern used as
an underground natural gas storage facility. This gas was then safely
Over the next two months the Kansas Gas Service consulted with the
KGS about possible vent-well locations and additional vent wells were
drilled to release pressure. Hutchinson was safe from further gas
geysers and gas explosions — and the displaced residents finally
could return safely to their homes.
Understanding of the situation was initiated through the KGS' fast
action — action that began with core that had been collected for
another purpose many years earlier. Having immediate access to critical
geoscience data and information played a crucial role in facilitating
rapid response to a local crisis.