October 20, 2014

Future oil well regulations could be a possibility

Danedri Thompson
dthompson@gardnernews.com
City officials aren’t particularly interested in allowing oil wells within city limits. That’s the consensus council members appeared to reach during a work session on Aug. 4.
Community Development Director Mike Hall shared information about oil drilling and wells with the council. The work session came on the heels of a planning commission decision to recommend rejection of a conditional use permit for oil wells on property adjacent to Celebration Park. Council members have not yet considered that specific matter, but they discussed the potential negatives of allowing oil wells within city limits.
“Successful oil wells inside and outside the city are a major obstacle to planned residential growth,” Hall explained.
When oil wells are successful, they make a lot of money and property owners are reluctant to sell land with producing wells for development purposes.
“Development for other purposes has to compete with that land use,” Hall said.
Currently, there are several oil wells located within the city’s planned growth area. Hall specifically listed wells in operation near Celebration Park and near the Kill Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant. With a simple electrical permit, the county allows oil wells on parcels larger than 10 acres.  Hall said the county typically does not formally notify the city when someone seeks to put oil wells on property just beyond Gardner’s city limits. Hall suggested city staff may want to ask the county to require a more inclusive permitting process for wells in unincorporated areas.
There is also no telling how long an oil well might be productive. A well could produce oil for 10 years, 20 years or even longer, Hall explained.
“After the well has been mined and the economic life of the well has ended, then the well is typically abandoned,” Hall said.
There are challenges to future development on land that used to house oil-producing wells.
The Kansas Corporation Commission has some oversight in the capping of old wells, however, once well plugs are installed, the wells are not monitored.
“The KCC, they’re oversight is not to address the safety of the well,” Hall explained. “Their emphasis is really for the efficient use of the resource to avoid conflicts between well operators.”
Abandoned wells can have leaks due to inadequate plumbing, and there could be gas accumulation, which could lead to explosions.
“There haven’t been a lot of occurrences of this,” Hall explained. “There can be ground or water contamination as well.”
Oil wells are not expressly permitted in any zones other than agricultural zoning, Hall said.
“But I think you could say oil wells, given their life, which is at least 10 years, more like 20 years — they could be a hindrance to a higher use,” he explained. “There should be a question of whether they should be allowed in the city.”
Hall wasn’t sure whether a city could outright ban oil wells.
“I’m not sure that legal question has been answered yet, but that’s something to be considered,” he said.
Council members requested more information about how other municipalities deal with oil wells. However, they appeared to reach a consensus to ban oil wells if possible.
“At the end of the day, what benefit is it to the city?” council member Heath Freeman asked. “Is it going to provide tax benefits to the city? Is it going to hinder future development? I think that’s the greater policy question. Is it a mutually beneficial situation for all involved?”
Gardner is more landlocked than many cities due to encroaching annexations of Olathe and Edgerton.
“Once a drill is tapped, if it’s pumping oil, we’re not going to buy them out of it,” Freeman said.

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