Decision pending on drilling for oil beneath Century II

Wichita officials have not made a decision on the future of an oil drilling proposal at Century II, a decision that could affect a major downtown apartment project.

The city’s urban development department is wrapping up the vetting of Trek AEC officials, the Wichita company that is the only bidder to drill for oil approximately 4,000 feet below Century II. As a result, a Metropolitan Area Planning Commission hearing on the issue that began in early August has been deferred pending completion of that vetting.

Meanwhile, it’s not clear what impact the drilling project would have on the planned River Vista apartment, office and retail complex nearby. City and Delano officials said Friday they think the River Vista developers – George Laham, Dave Burk, Dave Wells and Bill Warren – are opposed to the drilling project. The developers are not commenting publicly on the proposed drilling.

After the city’s vetting is done, City Manager Robert Layton and planning director John Schlegel said it’s not clear how they will proceed.

“What we'll have are the vetting results, and then it will be up to the team to determine if they will change any part of their composition,” Layton said. “And then it’s up to us to decide how to proceed.”

The Eagle reported on July 20, based on accounts from city officials, that City Hall had begun negotiations for a mineral rights lease with the group. City officials said the group was represented by David Leben, a local entrepreneur with unpaid state taxes, loan defaults and debt recovery judgments in the past 10 years.

Another principal in the group, veteran Wichita oilman Alan DeGood, ran American Energies Corporation, which is involved in a tax dispute with the Kansas Department of Revenue about whether natural gas wells produced enough to warrant severance taxes.

That City Hall account was disputed by Greg Ferris, a former City Council member who works as a consultant for Trek AEC to help gain council approval for the drilling project. Ferris said Leben has nothing to do with the drilling project, although Leben stands to gain a financial interest in the drilling if Trek AEC strikes oil and can cover its drilling costs.

City officials initially learned about oil downtown in February 2012, when several drillers expressed interest in drilling on the library site.

Karen Cravens, a member of Delano Neighborhood Association and Delano United, groups that represent the retail and residential district near the drilling site, said her group still has “concerns” about the proposed drilling although “compromises may be possible.”

The groups are concerned about the possible environmental impact of the drilling, she said.

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