State joins search for oil in Sedgwick County

The southern Kansas oil and gas boom has landed in Sedgwick County, with the state joining the city of Wichita and private explorers in the local search for oil.

Steven Stotts, taxation director for the Kansas Department of Revenue, will open bids to later this month lease oil and gas rights on state-owned land along the Arkansas River in southeast Sedgwick County just east of Oliver, according to county officials. The leases with the state will be for five years, according to a legal publication that appeared in The Eagle.

The state land, about 125 acres, is the latest county site to draw attention from mineral explorers, joining a tract along the Arkansas River at Second and McLean in Wichita, which is currently earmarked for a new central library.

Bill Meek, the Sedgwick County register of deeds, said the number of mineral leases recorded in his office has skyrocketed.

“We’re seeing two to three lease-related documents a day filed in our office, ranging from leases, declarations of oil,” he said. “There’s been more of that activity in the last year than in the past 10 years.”

Wichita officials are taking a hard look at the possibilities at Second and McLean, where some of the city’s biggest oil firms think a significant deposit of oil resides under the ground earmarked later this decade for a new $30 million central library. No decision on drilling has been made, City Manager Robert Layton indicated on Monday.

The location’s proximity to the Arkansas River makes oil deposits a possibility, Mayor Carl Brewer said in February. The library project has been delayed a year as the city seeks to limit its bond debt for future capital improvements projects.

Downtown historically has been the site for oil drilling – including the legendary late 1800s city-owned “Gusher” near 15th Street and Broadway. City regulations today make drilling difficult inside city limits, although the current City Council has indicated a willingness to look at those laws.

Still, city officials 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. Wells said in February he thinks the deposits are actually chemical pollution.

Veteran oilman Dick Schremmer, president of Bear Petroleum, said speculators think there may be a route to some remaining oil in south-central Kansas. That interest is spreading slowly to the north, into Sedgwick, Kingman, Reno and Greenwood counties.

“The state’s probably on the right track,” he said. “They’ve got the leases for the river both ways, and this way they’re not out anything. There sure are people leasing the ground up to the river.”

Schremmer said the local interest is driven by the horizontal drilling taking place south of the area in counties along the Kansas-Oklahoma border.

“They’ve jumped the border and if what they’re doing down there works, they’ll come north,” Schremmer said.

“They’re betting … if they have to come north they’ll have leases. They call it a trend, hoping they’ll get lucky.”

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