Site for new Wichita library may be sitting atop oil deposit

02/13/2012 5:00 AM

08/05/2014 6:44 PM

The city of Wichita went looking for a new library site and may have struck oil.

City officials confirmed Monday that they’re weighing the possibility of drilling on the proposed new library site at Second and McLean, after some of the city’s oil industry experts have indicated there may be “significant” oil deposits under the site.

The location’s proximity to the Arkansas River makes oil deposits a possibility, Mayor Carl Brewer said. Although the property is earmarked for a new downtown library – one that may be delayed as the city limits its capital improvements expenditures — Brewer’s confident any drilling won’t further delay construction.

“There have been some people here to see us from the local oil industry, and they’re telling us there could be significant oil down there,” Brewer said. “So, we think it’s something that we have to check out.”

Downtown historically has been the site for some oil drilling — including the legendary late 1800s city-owned “Gusher” near 15th and Broadway — although city regulations make it difficult today for drilling inside city limits. Nonetheless, Brewer and council members say they want a definitive answer on what might be under the property, acquired a few years ago for the library from Dave Wells of Key Construction.

“We haven’t actually taken it up formally as a council, so there’s a number of things put in play,” council member Jeff Longwell said. “With today’s technology and a number of factors, I want to make sure we protect the resources we have. We ought to take a look at whether our citizens can be helped budgetarily with the city owning an oil well.”

Retired Wichita geologist Mike Hadix praised the city’s move.

“I’m not at all skeptical about what they’re doing,” Hadix said. “I definitely think there’s oil downtown.”

Rex Buchanan, interim director of the Kansas Geological Survey in Lawrence, said that oil deposits near riverbeds are common. He said that with new methods of oil recovery, “it’s sure reasonable for the city to take a look at that.”

“… there’s the newer technology, like 3-D seismic (an underground imaging system using sound waves) and recovery techniques that didn’t exist 40 or 50 years ago. It makes good sense to look at older fields.”

Brewer said that if testing looks positive for oil, the city will send out a request for proposals to drill the area.

Meanwhile, the new oil developments shouldn’t further delay the library project, which could get pushed back at least a year as the city manages its capital improvement debt.

“The concrete portion of the production wouldn’t be as large as a car,” Brewer said. “They can pump the oil off to somewhere else, and you don’t have the huge well with all the noise and the smell that it used to have.”

“I still like the river site,” Longwell said of the proposed library site. “It has a lot of potential because people think, and I think, we need to better utilize the river corridor.

“We can’t move the river downtown but we can bring downtown to the river. Putting the library there helps bring downtown to the river.”

Brewer says he’s curious about the oil reports, but he’s not counting city revenue yet.

“It’s not going to cause me to load up the family and move to Beverly Hills,” he said, chuckling. “But it is interesting, isn’t it?”

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