Wichita A federal magistrate judge sided with a Nebraska firm in the condemnation of more than 9,100 acres in south-central Kansas, the latest legal skirmish in a decades-old fight stemming from gas seeping from an underground storage facility.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Donald Bostwick recommended earlier this week that a higher court issue a preliminary injunction allowing Northern Natural Gas Co. immediate access to the formation in the so-called expansion area where the storage gas is believed to have seeped — conditioned on the company providing “reasonable security.” Bostwick amended his order on Friday to correct the amount of bond the company must post to $6.7 million, in addition to a $3.8 million deposit.
Bostwick also recommended that the court confirm the condemnation and find the firm has the right of immediate possession of the property. That would allow Northern to take possession of existing gas wells and convert them to observation wells, drill new injection and observation wells and install electrical and telecommunications lines.
It is up to U.S. District Judge Wesley Brown, the 104-year-old federal judge overseeing the complex case, to decide whether to accept the findings of the magistrate judge who conducted the evidentiary hearings.
More than 173 property owners hold some property interest in the more than 40 tracts — spanning three south-central Kansas counties — that are targeted in the lawsuit.
Among the issues addressed in this latest ruling are eight gas wells drilled into a deep formation that the firm contends holds gas from its storage field. Since the condemnation covers only the deeper formation, the well owners want to perforate their existing wells in order to explore native gas in shallower underground formations that are not included in the condemnation.
But Northern wants to use those existing wells as observation wells so it sought an injunction prohibiting the well owners from modifying their existing wells. It is cheaper for the well owners to do that than to drill new wells in the shallower formation.
The magistrate’s recommendations, if Brown accepts them, would give Northern Natural Gas immediate ownership of those wells it wants. But Bostwick sided with the well owners in requiring the company to deposit the higher amount it wanted reflecting the actual cost to drill new wells.