To suggest oil production is important to the state economy is about as insightful as saying the sun will rise in the east.
Ever since the vast Mid-Continent field was discovered under most of Kansas, the state has been one of the country's top producers. Recent drilling in the Mississippian Lime play has helped the industry increase production collectively to some 44 million barrels in 2012. The oil and gas industry is a multi-billion-dollar sector and critical to the state's GDP.
One drills where oil can be found. Common sense, correct? And rules are in place to protect otherwise developed areas or pristine environmental spots?
Apparently, not so much.
One company, Driller Trek AEC, has run into opposition for its plans in Sedgwick County. It wanted to drill for oil beneath the convention center in downtown Wichita and, perhaps not surprisingly, faced public outcry. We're not sure the company's alternative sites of directly on the Century II complex or underneath the WaterWalk development will be received any better.
Another company, H&C Oil Co. of Plainville, has run into opposition for its plans to drill into the Cheyenne Bottoms in Barton County. One of the co-owners, Charles Ramsay, reportedly has been "crucified" for his plans to sink a well in the vital wetlands.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is opposing H&C's request because of the potential harm to the country's largest interior marsh. Cheyenne Bottoms and the nearby Quivira National Wildlife Refuge are prime stopping points for some 250,000 waterfowl every year. Sandpipers, geese and cranes, including the endangered whooping crane, are dependent on the site.
Yet there were more than 140 notices to drill in these wetlands, just in the past year. H&C Oil already has working pumps in the area that have performed well for decades.
"We're not looking to destroy anything, harm anything," Ramsay said.
Of this, we have no doubt. But at the same time, why is there any uncertainty about where developers are allowed to drill?
It makes sense there should be provisions in place. Oil and natural gas companies would comply. But if there is such a wide-open framework where developers look to drill on sensitive wetlands or in downtown Wichita, we think there is a problem. State and federal agencies need to better coordinate their efforts to protect the interests of the public, the environment and the oil and gas industry.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry