New evidence of oil boom is found in Ness County

? An observer need only look at one number – 56 – to see evidence of a resurging oil boom here. That’s how many oil wells have been drilled in Ness County in the past two years alone.

“The boom’s here,” said Don Lahar, a Wichita land broker who is among those who has been buying up parcels in the west-central Kansas county. “When you have $60 oil, everyone and their dog is out buying leases. There are a lot of dollars out there in the oil industry. You could get a better value on your money in oil and gas right now as opposed to the stock market.”

Mark Horchem, the register of deeds in Ness County, said some weeks his office records up to 80 leases. Lahar then obtains information on those buyers and offers $4 to $10 an acre.

The boom is having a significant effect. New businesses are cropping up, landowners are making money, and jobs are being created. Ness County Clerk Renee Kerr credits oil production with a county valuation that skyrocketed by nearly $10 million from 2004 to 2005.

“They’re drilling everywhere,” said Sherry Frick, the county appraiser. “It’s so scattered and not in one spot. Land men are fighting to get the leases.”

Robert Smith, left, and Mark Dinkel add a section of drilling pipe as they search for oil on a drilling rig owned by Shields Drilling Co. Inc. near Ransom, Kans., Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2006. The crew was drilling for Palomino Petroleum. Ness County has seen an increase of 56 new wells in the past two years alone. According to Don Lahar, a Wichita land broker who is among those who has been buying up parcels, an oil boom is taking place.

It’s not the county’s first boom. The oil industry flourished in the 1950s and again in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but it collapsed in the mid-1980s. By 1999, prices had fallen to a low of $8 a barrel.

Today, they hover between $55 and $60.

Locals are celebrating the boom. Rooms at this town’s only motel, the Derrick Inn, have been booked. Sunrise Oil Field Service has added three more workers.

Local banker Marlin Pfannenstiel said the boom boosts the economy in all manner of ways, including field workers’ purchases of fuel, tires, supplies and groceries.