Commission to discuss Cheyenee Bottoms oil wells
The Barton County Commission Monday morning will discuss the applications to drill oil wells near Cheyenne Bottoms. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kansas City District, along with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment are accepting comments on drilling proposed by H&C Oil Company of Plainville and L.D. Drilling of Great Bend.
The Commission will meet at 9 a.m. Monday at the Barton County Courthouse, 1400 Main in Great Bend.
“A number of taxpayers have expressed concern about oil and gas wells being drilled in the vicinity of Cheyenne Bottoms,” said County Administrator Richard Boeckman. This prompted the matter to be placed on the Commission agenda.
Other agenda items include:
• Revisions and updates to the Barton County Operating Regulations for Golden Belt and Hillcrest memorial parks north of Great Bend, including a name change and the burial of cremated remains.
• The purchase of computers and related equipment for Central Kansas Community Corrections.
• The transferring of money from the Equipment Replacement Fund to Road and Bridge Fund.
• An update on the activities of county departments from Boeckman.
Public concern over the exact location of a proposed oil well in The Nature Conservancy Preserve next to Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area erupted following a report in The Great Bend Tribune Tuesday.
The Tribune travelled to Section 14, Township 18 south, Range 13, the legal description in the public notice, Thursday. Located at the intersection of NE 20 Ave. and NE 80 Road, it’s in a rural area between Barton Community College and the city of Hoisington, less than two miles from the area boundary of the Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area near Pool 2, according to a map by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. TNC Preserve lands are adjacent to the boundary of the state-owned land.
The existing well belonging to H&C Oil Operating Inc. is located not too far east from that intersection, about 50 feet from the dirt road that runs through the middle of Section 14 from east to west. On the south side of the road sits an additional producing well owned by another company.
A look at the Kansas Geological Survey map of the Cheyenne Bottoms Wetlands complex shows many active wells, and even more plugged wells surrounding the pool area. Most were drilled in the 1960s through the 1980s. Many leases are “held by production,” meaning they can continue the lease as long as there is production. When the production ends, the lease would theoretically end, and the owner could seek a new party to lease or purchase the mineral rights. Many of the wells existing now are producing much less than when they were originally put into production.
All around the existing H&C well stands grassland and the occasional group of trees, and micro-depressions filled with recent rain water. The sounds of Killdeer calling as they flit about can be heard.
After two consecutive years of extreme drought, the area is still recovering and only now is beginning to see pooling once more. The breeze over the grasses recalled ocean waves of blended shades of green. Depressions filled with water, visible from the county roads, were full of activity as native shorebirds gathered flying insects. It’s exactly what the preserve is intended to provide to the numerous species of wildlife that call it home. Or at least a stopping point on the way to wherever home may ultimately be.
Nature Conservancy working to protect interest
According to Jim Hays, Conservation Projects Coordinator with The Nature Conservancy, the Nature Conservancy’s goal at Cheyenne Bottoms is to protect waterfowl and shorebirds alike by restoring and protecting the natural marshes, mud flats and adjoining grasslands.
While the land is not in the pool area most visitors commonly think of as the Cheyenne Bottoms Wetlands, Hays says this part of the preserve is part of the larger wetlands basin and also an important ecosystem worth preserving.
“We’re also trying to minimize fragmentation these areas,” he said. Fragmentation occurs when roads are cut and fences strung through natural lands, cutting one part of an ecosystem apart from the rest. “Our mission is to preserve as many natural ecosystems as we can.”
The TNC has increased its holdings in the area over time, purchasing adjoining tracts of land as they’ve come up for sale over the years. Some tracts have a variety of different rights associated with them. When the organization acquired the surface rights for this piece of land, the mineral rights had already been sold, so they were aware this could be an issue in the future.
“All we’re telling the developer is since we are the surface rights owners, that the proper permits need to be acquired,” Hays said. “We aren’t going to keep the well from going in, but we want to work with everyone to make sure it is as environmentally sound as possible and maintain the wetland values . That ‘s part of being landowners and being a good steward of the land.”
Oil company working with TNC
Good stewardship is also important to Charles Ramsay, president and co-owner of H&C. He and his father, his partner in the business, share 35 years experience in the oil production industry.
“We are under the rules and regulations of the Oil and Gas Commission and Kansas Corporation Commission to protect freshwater and the environment, and we’ve always complied with those rules and regulations,” he said.
He understands the public’s concern. Early on, there was concern that fracking technology would be used in drilling the well, which he adamantly denies. The process he will use is not out of the ordinary from the way most Kansas producers drill a vertical well he says. Drilling mud will be forced down the wellbore to lubricate and cool the drill, and to force rock back to the surface to examine. The mud components are all natural, with no contaminants, and will be collected in above ground steel lined tanks to remove after the drilling process is complete, Ramsay said. If the well is a producer, a minimal amount of stimulation will be used to force oil to the surface.
“I’m not out there to destroy anything,” Ramsay said. “And I’m going through the proper process that Mr. Hays recommended I do.”
This is a process all oil and gas developers are supposed to be investigating wherever they are drilling.
“We especially want that to occur on the TNC preserves,” Hays said. Hays and Ramsay have been working together for over a year. “I have to say, they’ve been really cooperative in doing that. Not everyone is willing to do that.”
Mineral rights owner wants well
When and if the well goes in, TNC will not receive any royalties if it produces. As surface owners of the land, they have no right to the minerals. One family that stands to benefit from a producing well is the Miller family of Ellinwood. George Miller, Jr. and other family members still maintain the mineral rights of the land he owned first with his brother and now his brother’s heirs for the past 50 years.
When he was approached by one of H&C’s Colorado investors months ago, he said he pointed the operation in the direction of TNC, who purchased the surface rights from them many years ago.
In 1981, the original lease holder’s well was drilled, and right away began producing several thousand barrels of oil per year. According to information available on the Kansas Geological Survey website, (http://www.kgs.ku.edu/Magellan/Field/lease.html) in 1982, it produced 8,672 bbls per year, and in 1986, it’s highest producing year, it gave 9,302 bbls. Since then, production has slowly diminished and in 2012, it produced 963 bbls.
“It was a pretty good producer back when it was first drilled,” Miller said in an interview at his Ellinwood home Friday morning. He and his family continue to receive royalties equal to one- eighth of the production value from the well. They worry that TNC is trying to unnecessarily stand in the way of the drilling. “The only reason it’s called a wetlands is because that’s what The Nature Conservancy named it,” Miller said.
Luke Cory, US Army Corps of Engineers, said the Corps is responsible for determining if an area is a wetland, and will determine if the permit is awarded. The Corps, in conjunction with the Kasnas Department of Health and Environment, issued a public notice about the project on June 13. They have the authority under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. Cory will be the representative that will make this decision, and is looking to the public review process to bring out the concerns the public has.
“Often, they will bring up questions I wouldn’t even know to ask,” he said. “The public comment part of the process is very important.
Cory said the Corps doesn’t stand to gain anything from permitting drilling in this area. It simply acts as the chair of an interagency review team that would oversee funding the mitigation of the area where the permanent oil well would be located.
Sierra Club concerned
Joe Spease, a representative with the Sierra Club in Kansas, is concerned about damage that could occur to the ecosystem both during and after the drilling process.
The high amount of truck traffic alone represents a threat to the ecosystem, he said, not to mention the possibility of illegal dumping of water and mud used in the drilling process. That’s just some of the upfront impacts he foresees. Down the road, he worries about what could happen if the area floods and water gets into the well, or if the cement well casing cracks. If contents under pressure were to be released into groundwater 10, 20 or more years in the future, it could be ejected into the bottoms later.
“We don’t want to pass on a problem to our grandchildren for a relatively small gain today,” he said. “With a precious ecosystem like this that is so valuable, what kind of price do you put on this?”
The public comment period is open until July 4. The Barton County Commissioners have included discussion on their Monday morning agenda (see accompanying story), but individuals can direct comments to Luke Cory, USACE, and the Kansas Dept. of Health and Environment at the addresses below.
Luke M. Cory, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kanopolis Regulatory Field Office, 107 Riverside Drive, Marquette, KS 67464, via telephone at 785-546-2130 (FAX 785-546-2050) or via email at email@example.com
Copy all comments to: Kansas Dept. of Health and Environment, Bureau of Water -- Watershed Management Section, 1000 SW Jackson St., Suite 420, Topeka, KS 66612-1367.