Lawrence and Douglas County officials express concerns about saltwater injection wells

City of Lawrence and Douglas County officials are raising concerns about a proposal to allow wastewater injection wells in the area.

The wells would be located in rural Douglas County about 5 miles southeast of Lawrence, and would be injected with a saltwater byproduct from oil or gas extraction processes. City and county officials are requesting that the state delay the review process for the permit until they are provided data showing the injections aren’t harmful.

“When you’re evaluating something like that, it seemed to us that it should be fact-driven in terms of all the consequences that could result from an installation like this,” City Manager Tom Markus said. “There are several different injection well possibilities in terms of what they are doing with it, how they’re doing it. Some of that analysis just seems like it should be ensconced in our review procedures at the state level, or whoever that permitting agency might be.”

Florida-based Midstates Energy Operating LLC filled permit applications for two wells with the state to inject the saltwater. The property is located along North 1000 Road, also known as County Road 458. The applications note a maximum injection of 100 barrels per day for each well, which totals 8,400 gallons of wastewater per day.

The Kansas Corporation Commission’s oil and gas conservation division decides whether to approve permits for new wells, but members of the public and entities can file a protest against a proposed well during a 30-day protest period. As of last year, there are about 175 wells related to the oil and gas industry in Douglas County, but only two are saltwater disposal wells, according to KCC spokeswoman Linda Berry.

Markus and Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug submitted a letter last week to the KCC that raised several concerns about the review process for injection wells. The letter requested that the KCC indefinitely extend Midstates Energy Operating’s protest period until an analysis is provided that shows the injections will not endanger underground water resources or increase the risk of earthquakes.

The risk has dramatically jumped in Oklahoma for earthquakes caused by disposal of wastewater, according to The Associated Press. Considering those trends, Weinaug said they were concerned about whether the KCC review of the requested injection wells was actually a substantive review.

“We know the neighboring state of Oklahoma has had huge problems with earthquakes and damage that has occurred,” Weinaug said. “And we don’t know whether they have done an analysis to make sure it protected any water tables or water resources. And so essentially, the letter just said (the protest period) doesn’t give us enough time to make sure our residents are protected.”

The letter requested three changes to the injection well permitting process, the first being that the protest period be increased to 60 days to give staff of local governments time to review applications and submit any proposed action to the governing body for decision.

The second request is that cities and counties be directly notified when an injection well permit is requested. Markus said the city wasn’t made aware of the proposal until residents voiced concerns to the City Commission last week, and it had limited time to respond.

The third is that the burden of proving that an injection well will not be harmful be shifted to the oil and gas industry and the KCC. The letter states that the current process of requiring those with concerns to demonstrate that a well would be harmful may be an “unrealistic expectation” for the average resident.

The letter was sent on Thursday, and as of Monday neither the city nor the county had received a response from the KCC. However, Berry told the Journal-World that the protest period will be restarted due to an error made by Midstates Energy Operating.

The 30-day protest period is initiated when the company publishes a notification of the application in the official newspaper. The notification was published in the Journal-World earlier this month, but erroneously indicated that the protest period is 15 days, according to Berry. Berry said that because of the error, the notification must be republished and the 30-day protest period will begin again at that time.

A representative for Midstates Energy Operating did not immediately return a phone call from the Journal-World requesting comment about the issue.