Kansas has continued issuing improper injection-well permits, attorney argues

TOPEKA – A Lawrence attorney has alleged that Kansas energy regulators are continuing to allow oil and gas drillers to file applications for injection-well permits without providing adequate public notice, even as those regulators were conducting an investigation into complaints that the regulators have not been enforcing legal public notice requirements for the last 10 years.

Robert Eye is an attorney representing the Kansas Sierra Club, Douglas County and five individuals before the Kansas Corporation Commission. They have said that the KCC has issued more than 2,000 permits for injection wells throughout Kansas dating back to 2008, including 60 in Douglas County, after giving the public only 15 days in which to file protests instead of the federally required 30 days.

“The remedy that we’ve asked for in that investigation docket is to have all the permits that were issued on a defective published notice to be revoked and to have the holders of those permits reapply under a proper notice,” Eye said in an interview Thursday.

Underground injection wells around oil and gas fields have been linked to earthquakes in south-central Kansas that many people say have caused significant property damage. Some have also argued that in certain cases they can pose a threat to underground drinking water supplies.

“The significance is they are choking us off in terms of giving us less and less time to try to mount a protest, to submit any kind of comment, and that’s a lot,” Cindy Hoedel, a Matfield Green resident who has complained about earthquakes in her area, said in an interview after Thursday’s KCC meeting. “These notices get published in these tiny little newspapers, and sometimes it might take us 15 days before we find it, before somebody notices it.”

Hoedel first called attention to the issue of inadequate public notice in October when she emailed the director of the KCC’s Underground Injection Control Program citing several such instances that had occurred over the previous four months.

The commission then initiated what it calls a “general investigation” into that matter, and on Thursday it was scheduled to issue a final order. Based on the KCC staff’s recommendation, that order was expected to say no further action was needed because no harm had actually occurred.

But late Wednesday, Eye filed a new motion in the matter, asking the KCC to take official notice of the fact that as recently as July an oil company operating in Wilson County had published two public notices of applications for injection-well permits that contained only 15-day public protest periods.

Eye’s clients have argued that allowing only a 15-day notice does not give the public sufficient time to prepare an adequate protest petition and that it violates federal regulations under the Safe Drinking Water Act, which requires a 30-day notice.

In June, after receiving testimony from dozens of individuals, as well as representatives of the oil and gas industry, staff of the KCC issued a recommendation that the commission take no further action, saying the “discrepancies” in the public notice time frame did not violate any KCC regulations, that they were not “fatal flaws” in the applications and that nobody’s due process rights had been violated.

Eye, however, said federal regulations in the matter are clear, that a 30-day protest period is required and that failing to provide adequate public notice does violate the due process rights of interested parties.

After announcing that they were delaying the vote on a final order, commissioners went into a closed-door executive session to discuss confidential legal matters concerning potential future litigation.

The commission’s next scheduled business meeting is Sept. 6.


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