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Douglas County oil production up 12 percent in 2012; outpaces statewide growth

Maybe I’ve been prospecting for oil wrong all these years. You remember how Jed Clampett on the Beverly Hillbillies struck it rich when he was out shooting at some food, and up from the ground came some “bubbling crude” (or “Texas tea,” that is)? I just figured that was the way to do it.

Well, others in Douglas County have been having more success with other methods, it seems. A new report from the Kansas Geological Survey at KU says oil production is up in Douglas County, just as it is statewide.

There were 51,715 barrels of oil pumped in Douglas County in 2012, up 12 percent from 2011. Douglas County’s rate of increase outpaced the state as a whole, which saw oil production increase by 5 percent in 2012.

Douglas County’s totals were the highest since 2010, when about 53,000 barrels were pumped. The numbers represent quite a turnaround from the early 2000s. From 2000 to 2007, the county didn’t pump more than 40,000 barrels in any given year.

The number of wells operating in Douglas County is also at a high. The county had 422 wells operating in 2012, which was the highest total since at least 1995.

Several of the new wells are actually old wells that had been abandoned but now have been restarted. But there also has been some new drilling in the county.

The area between Baldwin and Eudora in eastern Douglas County continues to be the prime area for oil production in the area. With oil prices remaining high, and recovery techniques improving, there have been some dramatic increases in the amount of oil that producers are able to extract from those fairly modest wells.

For example, there is a field called Eudora South in eastern Douglas County. Up until 2007, it had not had more than one well operating at a time, and the field did not produce more than 710 barrels in any given year.

Since 2007, the field has had anywhere from 19 to 22 wells operating, and it has produced a total of 21,100 barrels of oil. If extracting oil has become that much more efficient, it makes you wonder why the price of it has remained so high?

Folks may be surprised that there actually are oil wells just outside the city limits of Lawrence. There has been new activity just outside of North Lawrence behind the ICL Performance Products plant — or the former FMC plant, to you old-timers.

A new set of oil storage tanks has been built near the intersection of North 1650 Road and East 1600 Road in the past several months. There also appears to be a fairly new oil well just to the south of that location.

The idea that there is oil in the Kansas River valley is not a new one, and indeed there have long been some old wells near the North 1650 and East 1600 roads area. But Lynn Watney, geologist with the Kansas Geological Survey, said he expects drillers will start having more interest in what has been known as the “shoestring sands” that run through the valley.

Enhanced drilling techniques have made it more feasible to get through the 1,000 to 1,200 feet of sediment that covers the sand beds. But the biggest factor, Watney said, has been the sustained high price of oil over the past several years. That has been the main driver in Douglas County becoming more active in the oil business.

“There is plenty of incentive when you are talking about $80 to $100 oil,” Watney said.

Statewide, oil production rose to 43.7 million barrels last year, up 5 percent from 2011. Douglas County continues to be a minor player in the oil business, compared to counties in western and southern Kansas. Ellis County, in northwest Kansas, is the state’s top producer, with nearly 3.6 million barrels in 2012, an increase of about 5 percent over 2011. Following Ellis County were the counties of Barber, Barton, Russell, Ness, Rooks, Haskell, Finney, Graham and Stafford.

Douglas County is in the middle of the pack when it comes to oil production from area counties. Here’s a look at 2012 totals for area counties:

• Jefferson County: 20,285 barrels from 62 wells;

• Johnson County: 293,351 barrels from 779 wells;

• Leavenworth County: 64,912 barrels from 210 wells;

• Franklin County: 201,661 barrels from 1,861 wells;

• Osage County: 2,195 barrels from four wells;

• Miami County: 171,826 barrels from 2,327 wells;

• Neighboring Shawnee County has no oil wells.

The KU report also measured natural gas production. Kansas, unlike some other states, hasn’t seen an increase in natural gas production; in fact, it declined about 4 percent in 2012. Watney said that mainly was because natural gas prices have been low, which has halted new drilling in the expansive Hugoton gas fields in southwest Kansas.

Douglas County had no active gas wells in 2012, according to the KU numbers.

That’s good to know. I’ll put my natural gas hunting expeditions on hold for a while. And I need to explain to my wife why the tulips are full of buckshot.

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