It's a good thing that tapping into the state's natural gas deposits apparently doesn't endanger any scenic vistas.
While the state is putting the brakes on efforts to develop wind energy in the Kansas Flint Hills, the search for natural gas is going full bore in the eastern third of the state. According to the Kansas Energy Report 2005, the search for coalbed methane (natural gas produced from coal seams) prompted the drilling of 445 new wells in eastern Kansas in 2003, a total that the December report expected to be exceeded for 2004. Total natural gas production in that area was valued at more than $72 million for 2004.
An Associated Press story in Monday's Journal-World said that companies are snatching up drilling rights in these new areas and property owners are anticipating possible financial windfalls from gas wells on their land. Landowners, who typically receive an eighth of the production revenue, will reap an estimated $2,000 to $3,000 a month off each of the 1,763 coalbed wells that have been drilled in eastern Kansas.
That's good for those areas, and the development of new natural gas sources may help moderate utility rates for all of us. But it's ironic to compare the enthusiasm with which the natural gas discoveries are being greeted to the strong opposition faced by those who want to develop wind power in the state.
A map in last month's state energy report shows that most of the coalbed methane lies east of the "Nemaha Uplift," which follows a line from north to south right through the "Heart of the Flint Hills" area that has been placed almost off-limits for developing wind power. The map indicates seven natural gas wells already have been drilled in Chase County, another seven in Wabaunsee County and 14 in Lyon County.
The wind power restrictions are a response to protests that generators would mar the aesthetic purity of the Flint Hills prairie. Is the equipment needed to tap into the natural gas more esthetically pleasing than wind generators? Is this a case of a double standard and how do dollars figure into the question?
Another ironic piece to this puzzle is to look at the decline in production in the Hugoton fields in southwest Kansas. The natural gas deposits in the eastern part of the state also will run out eventually. And, it's reasonable to believe that long after that natural gas is gone, the wind still will be blowing across Kansas, providing a clean, renewable energy source.
Maybe then wind power will get the attention and respect it deserves.