Kansas’ energy-regulating agency will investigate nearly a decade’s worth of permits it granted to oil and gas companies after learning recently that some wells received permits without meeting certain state regulations.
The probe, announced Tuesday, will determine the number of wells approved since 2008 without the companies giving nearby residents accurate information about their rights to protest the wells.
Kansas has about 16,000 saltwater injection wells. It’s unclear how many could be affected.
Employees at the Kansas Corporation Commission, which regulates oil and natural gas production in the state, will have until Feb. 19 to make a list of all the wastewater well applications filed since October 2008 that failed to meet state regulations. They will make a second list of those applications that were approved despite this flaw.
The KCC began looking into the matter after Cindy Hoedel, a Chase County resident who objects to oil wastewater disposal in the Flint Hills, discovered that companies had been incorrectly informing residents that they had only 15 days to protest planned wells. The protest period was extended from 15 to 30 days in October 2008.
Companies can pour thousands of barrels of oil- and gas-related wastewater, churned up in the process of extracting oil and gas from the ground, into these saltwater injection wells each day. In Kansas, the fluid is primarily brine, but it can contain chemicals.
Before operating such a well, a company has to publish a public notice in a designated local newspaper letting residents know about the planned well and that they have 30 days to protest to the KCC.
Once the KCC makes its list of wells that were approved with inaccurate notices, well operators on that list will have until April 5 to file a brief and appear before the KCC with recommendations about the future of the wells. Other interested parties — such as Hoedel and others who live near wells — can file for intervenor status, allowing them to make recommendations as well.
Those who don’t qualify as intervenors or affected operators can make public comments on the KCC’s website, by email or by mail during the same period.
“What I heard today was a big step forward for transparency. We’ve never been allowed a public comment period before in any of our protests,” said Hoedel, who was at the KCC meeting Tuesday where the investigation was announced.
After the filing and public comment period closes April 5, KCC staff will write their own recommendation — due two months later — for what the KCC should do about the wells approved with inaccurate public notices.
Hoedel says she’s encouraged by the review and by the KCC response to the issues she raised.
“There’s been a general awakening to what’s going on,” she said. “We were all asleep for a long time, but now we’re awake, we’re paying attention. And I appreciate the Kansas Corporation Commission responding to that with more transparency and working to allow the public more access to the process when they show that they want it.”
Madeline Fox is a reporter or the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and KCUR covering health, education and politics. You can reach her on Twitter @maddycfox.
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