Archive for Sunday, February 9, 2014

New wave of oil drilling disrupts rural neighborhoods

February 9, 2014


Victoria Guerrero says she and her husband, Fernando, were stunned last February when they returned to Douglas County after Fernando's two-year military deployment to Germany.

The 10-acre plot of land southeast of Baldwin City they'd bought just before leaving and where they'd planned to build their dream home was now dotted with oil wells.

Four new oil wells, Victoria Guerrero said, plus an injection well for the disposal of drilling waste.

Although the Guerreros knew when they bought the land that someone else held a lease to the mineral rights, Victoria said there had been little or no drilling activity in that area for many years. And during the two years they were overseas while Fernando served his tour of duty, she said they never received any notice that the leaseholder intended to drill.

Neighbors Sara Yardley, left, and Amy Adamson live southeast of Baldwin City and are concerned abut the number of oil wells that are on their property and about the prospect of more being drilled too close to their homes.

Neighbors Sara Yardley, left, and Amy Adamson live southeast of Baldwin City and are concerned abut the number of oil wells that are on their property and about the prospect of more being drilled too close to their homes.

“They're supposed to, according to the KCC (the Kansas Corporation Commission), but we never got any notification of anything,” Victoria said. “If they had, questions would have been raised then.”

Now, she says, the land they bought for $65,000 has recently been appraised at less than half that amount, and no bank will give them a loan to build on it because there is no place to build that would meet the set-back requirements for building near a well.

The new oil boom in eastern Kansas

The Guerreros are not alone. In recent years, as new technologies like hydraulic fracturing and injection drilling have made it possible to get more oil out of formerly low-producing wells, landowners throughout parts of northeast Kansas have seen oil drillers coming onto their land with heavy trucks and drilling machinery, turning their once peaceful, rural homesteads into industrial-scale oil production meccas.

In Douglas County and some surrounding areas, one oil operator in particular is raising the ire of property owners: R.T. Enterprises Inc., based in Louisburg, whose owner, Lance Town, declined to be interviewed for this story.

In March 2013 alone, according to Kansas Corporation Commission records, R.T. Enterprises filed 52 notices of intent to drill in the single square-mile section southeast of Baldwin City where the Guerreros bought their land.

Victoria's mother, Sara Yardley, who lives on the land just south of the Guerreros' property, said she has been told that R.T. Enterprises plans to drill several wells on her property, including one in her front yard, another within a few feet of her water well and another inside her barn.

“You kind of feel like you don't own your property anymore,” Yardley said.

Both Guerrero and Yardley say they are not opposed to oil drilling, or the use of fossil fuels generally. In fact, they say they enjoy the royalty checks they now get each month for the oil taken out of their property.

“I just don't want to have to deal with him,” Guerrero said of Town. “The chances of us selling our land is zero percent now. I would like to get him off the property and get a different operator.”

Complaints of over-drilling and lax regulation

The mineral rights in that square-mile section are covered by two leases, known as the Pearson and Finnerty leases, named after the landowners who originally sold the rights in the early 1900s.

Amy Adamson, who also owns property in that area, said the leases state that no wells may be drilled within 200 feet of an existing structure. But while she and the other landowners have always believed that meant structures that exist at the time of the drilling, they say R.T. Enterprises claims it means structures that existed in 1918 and 1919 when the leases were established — structures that no longer exist.

“When we built our house here in 2002, we assumed we would have good protection,” Adamson said.

Adamson said the KCC has declined to get involved in those disputes, saying it's a civil matter between the oil operators and the landowners.

She also said the KCC has been allowing R.T. Enterprises to drill as many as one well for every 2.5 acres on the lease, four times more than the one per 10 acres spelled out in Kansas regulations. And for every four oil wells, she said, there is also an injection well for the disposal of salt water and other byproducts of the drilling process.

Legislative response

State Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, said he has heard numerous complaints about new drilling operations, including some from as far away as Miami County.

“There are drillers who have no intention at all to work with landowners,” Holland said. “They're not playing nicely in the sandbox.”

Holland recently introduced legislation that he says would give surface-right holders more protection when old leases are suddenly reactivated.

Among other things, Senate Bill 319 would amend current oil and gas law to limit oil drilling to one well per 10 acres, unless the property owner consents to additional wells. It would also require the KCC to adopt rules and regulations governing wells within 1,000 feet of an occupied structure to protect the rights and safety of the people living there.

“With these new technologies coming into play, you've got places where they've had wells in the past but they've been low producing or idle for several years,” Holland said. “In the meantime, you have people who've bought homes out in the country, and it's a quality-of-life issue.”

Holland's bill has been assigned to the Senate Natural Resources Committee, which has not yet scheduled a hearing on the issue.


Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 1 month ago

This is a property rights issue. Mineral rights, like water rights, are private property in Kansas. Other states are different.

There will likely be lawsuits, and the winners will be the lawyers. This reminds me of something that one of my grandmothers told me when I was rather young, and it concerned a bitterly contested court case where each of the lawyers were vehemently arguing their client's case in front of the judge and jury.

Once outside the courtroom, one of the lawyers remarked to the other: "We've got us a pair of mighty fat geese to cook!"

Robert Rauktis 4 years, 1 month ago

The problem with mineral rights extraction is it is condoned by most people by using the end product, as long as the production process is far away from you. It's analogous to industrial pig production in confined feed lots. NIMBYism at its finest.

Greg Cooper 4 years, 1 month ago

Let's not forget nor ignore that the oil companies did not set up "squatter rights" on these patches. They were bought and are paid for through royalties paid to the property owners. Probably not alot of language in the oil lease that pertains to the comfort or

It's a little late to argue the relative merits of an oil rig in your back yard when you sold to someone the right to put it there.

"It's too late to close the barn door after the hiorses are out."

Matthew Herbert 4 years, 1 month ago

Why would you ever buy land that someone else held power to alter? Reads to me like they bought into a bad situation that turned out to be a bad situation.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 1 month ago

Meanwhile the surface land owners are out $65,000. Just serving notice is not enough. Knowing that all concerned received notice and had no quarrel must be written into regulations/laws. Until the matter is resolved no new drilling should be allowed.

Perhaps Lance Town would want to buy out the concerned landowners?

John Graham 4 years, 1 month ago

The land owners are not out $65k. They claim the land is worth half what it was. So that means they are out $32.5k. Oh by the way they get regular royalty checks. They don't bother to state how much their royalty checks are. So they are not out $65k. It is quite possible they are better off because of the oil rigs.

They chose to buy land with someone else holding the mineral rights. Their fault. They have no one to blame but themselves.

Amy Varoli Elliott 4 years, 1 month ago

It doesn't say they get royalties, the previous land owners very well could have sold the mineral rights for a flat fee.

Doug Weston 4 years, 1 month ago

Maybe you should read the story closer. It says: "...they say they enjoy the royalty checks they now get each month for the oil taken out of their property."

John Graham 4 years, 1 month ago

Amy, Please read paragraph twelve that starts "Both Guerrero and Yardley..." you will see the article clearly states "they enjoy the royalty checks they now get each month". That would indicate both Guerrero and Yardley get royalty checks.

Eric MacDonald 4 years, 1 month ago

In fact the story specifically says that the landowners do receive royalties. "Both Guerrero and Yardley say they are not opposed to oil drilling, or the use of fossil fuels generally. In fact, they say they enjoy the royalty checks they now get each month for the oil taken out of their property." In an effort to put the story into context, the amount of the royalties would be relevant.

Mike Ford 4 years, 1 month ago

I'll let the cat out of bag since this area is in my neighborhood. Whose to blame for this situation? the deregulating pro business republican party of course. ironically many Kansans vote for this party without connecting the dots which is what this political party counts on....people not connecting the dots. some people are so disconnected and blindly convinced that when someone connects the dots these particular people are offended. these people are asking for regulation and which party is historically against rules? why the repubiican party of course. deregulation is the whole reason the Koch brothers death star is involved in politics. who wants to follow rules? just run over the people and ignore them whether it's oil leases like this, habitat for the lesser prairie chicken, water for the Kickapoo Nation, or the South Lawrence Trafficway. Until people wake up and vote do nothing shills for the economic darwinists out of office and kick the free market economic Darwinism for some sense bad things will happen and fooled people will keep voting the culprits back in the name of exploitative capitalism. Before moving to Kansas in 1981 I lived in southwest and northwest Louisiana. I saw the effects of exploitative capitalism as a child as the environment was destroyed around me in places like Sulphur, Louisiana, and the banks of the Mississippi north and south of Baton Rouge as we left the Atchafalaya Basin with all of the chemical smokestacks. I guess this oil patch area stretches from here to the Oklahoma border on either side of US 59/US 169 because we see the wells along the road especially between Welda and Colony, Kansas. People need to wake up. The gop is counting on cluelessness and deception to get re elected. I've seen this living in Kansas over 30 years.

Grégoire Guillaume 4 years, 1 month ago

Great post...If people had a real sense of who and what their voting for things would turn on a dime!

Norm Jennings 4 years, 1 month ago

Unfortunately, during a long dormant period to technology hurdles to profitable petroleum mining in Kansas, too many landowners (or want-to-be landowners) and industry alike have forgotten what is means to be good neighbors (and frankly good businesses).

I sympathize with both parties here, and there isn't clever, gotcha, one-liner here that is applicable for anyone other than snarky bystanders. If the shoe fits, wear it.

Legalities and Politics always apply, but can be wielded as a tool rather than a blunt weapon (equally applicable to both parties). Shame on any opportunists who drop in on either side with only capital (either financial or political) to gain. I'm sure there will be both involved in this issue. Blindly fingerpointing at opposing political parties may placate your inner child, but shows a frightening ignorance of the decades of history and precedence that attempted to reach legal fairness with a great deal more thought than any commenter to this article (myself included).

William Enick 4 years, 1 month ago

If you haven't noticed...decades of history and precedence isn't exactly what the deregulation-pro business-republican party gives a S*** about. Wonder what they think of evolution...light bulb...light bulb...

Mike Ford 4 years, 1 month ago

my inner child is not the problem here. thanks for the distraction away from the "Drill, Baby, Drill" party. Anyone remember the genius comments from that political genius Sarah Palin? I have three decades of experience of watching a certain political party create false outrage and the faux science of distraction to convince the real victims of these policies to keep voting for the politicians that victimize them. I was taught in my science class as a fourteen year old at Manhattan High School in Manhattan, Kansas, about acid rain and the warming of the climate when smog and cfc's didn't allow sunlight to return to the sun thus trapping this sunlight in our atmosphere and warming the climate. This was 1984-85. This was during the Reagan years. How would the tea partiers deny this real part of my educational experience? The denial needs to be pierced. All the GOP has is volume and denial. Fracking sends water and chemicals violently through underground strata. Holes are blown in previously isolated areas of underground water aquifers thus creating such a duh moment that the gop ignores. Basic science ignored??? really?? why not? it's Kansas of course. Money is more important than people or the preservation of the environment long term.

Staci Dark Simpson 4 years, 1 month ago

That's awful. It's a lesson in never buy anything that someone else can have any access to. The owner of the drilling company sounds like a spiteful jerk. I want to know how Kansas is letting him get away with over drilling. Drilling in the middle of someone's barn and next to a water well is spiteful. I hope this guy is stopped but I don't think it will happen unless someone gets a high profile, expensive lawyer. Too bad he couldn't have worked with the property owners or at least notified them. Crappy business practices by this company, they need to be exposed, and also the state for letting him get away with it.

William Enick 4 years, 1 month ago

Yes...spiteful = Predatory Capitalism which = pain (chronic mental anguish, as well as decreased physical and spiritual well-being) for the people & profit ( the results of which- creates an entitlement to literally write the law in favor of this type profit that trumps the needs of the people- in all aspects of life). Capitalism as a way of organizing society has been undermined legislatively at an accelerated pace since the collapse of 2008. Now if they can do away with evolution...

Melinda Toumi 4 years, 1 month ago

Fracking and tar sands pipeline running through the Midwest where we grow the food... What are we... Dodo birds?!?

Bob Smith 4 years, 1 month ago

Don't get all inflamed. There are already multiple oil pipelines running through the Midwest. They've been there for decades. And now you know....

Commenting has been disabled for this item.