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Oil well proposed inside Cheyenne Bottoms wetlands
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This aerial photo of the proposed well site is included in a permit request by H&C Oil Operations, Inc. of Plainville. The company hopes to drill a vertical oil well 870 feet inside the Cheyenne Bottoms wetlands area. - photo by Courtesy Image

An oil well could be drilled 870 feet inside the Cheyenne Bottoms wetlands if a permit requested by H&C Oil Operating Inc., of Plainville is granted.
On June 13, the US Army Corps of Engineers Kansas City District issued a public notice of the permit request. The public will have until July 4 to comment before a decision could be made.

H C Oil proposes to use a blade to excavate an area approximately 250 feet by 130 feet to remove all vegetation and level the site for oil well drilling.
They propose to build a temporary reserve pit to contain drilling fluids and water, which would be removed and disposed of offsite upon completion of the drilling.
Once the work is complete, they would restore and revegetate all but a 30-foot-by-30 foot area where the oil well would be sited. This area they hope to use in-lieu-fee mitigation, if the permit is granted.

According to the Environmental Law Institute, an in-lieu-fee program is an agreement between a regulatory agency (state, federal, or local) and a single sponsor, generally a public agency or non-profit organization.

This means, instead of mitigating damages at the wellsite, the corporation would pay a fee to the US Army Corps of Engineers that would be used by itself or pooled together with other fees to create one or a number of sites to satisfy the permittees’ required mitigation.

The Plainville corporation also requests an unpaved access road, 15 to 20 feet wide by 870 feet long, to service the well.

Charles Ramsay, part-owner and president of H&C Oil, said in a telephone interview Monday afternoon that the proposed well would be a vertical well, not a horizontal fracking well. “There is some confusion about this, because our proposal states we will have frack tanks on location to hold drilling water and drilling mud,” Ramsay said.  “There will be no fracking associated with this well.”

The company currently has a producing well with tank and battery on the same leased area that is not inside the Cheyenne Bottoms. It has been producing since the mid-1980s.

Now, the company would like to drill again within this area they “hold by production.”  When an oil company contracts with the land and mineral owners with a HBP lease, if it is able to make production, the lease remains in effect until production stops, Ramsay explained.

The Cheyenne Bottoms, the largest marsh in the interior of the United States wetlands area was designated a Wetland of International Importance in the 1988 Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. Prior to that designation, other oil companies attempted, somewhat unsuccessfully, to produce oil in and around the wetlands.

At that time, companies relied on two-dimensional seismic technology to locate new oil production potential. In the last 15 years, three dimensional seismic technology has been developed, Ramsay said, and that has helped Kansas operators locate new production potential. He is confident, because of their previous success in the area, and the company’s experience throughout western Kansas, that if the permit is awarded, the new well could be a good producer too.

“The decision to issue a permit will be based on an evaluation of the probable impact including the cumulative impacts of the proposed activity on the public interest,” the document reads. “That decision will reflect the national concern for both protection and utilization of important resources.”

The preliminary study as reported by the Kansas City District indicates the federally listed endangered Whooping Crane could be affected by the proposed work.

According to information at the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, there are over 100 other birds that use the wetlands during migrations and throughout the year. Other estimates state about 45 percent of North American shorebird species stop at the Bottoms during their spring migration.

The full public notice (2013-744) can be viewed at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website.