City of Wichita withdraws application for Century II oil drilling permit

Faced with an outcry of opposition, Wichita City Manager Bob Layton informed officials Friday that the city was withdrawing its application for a conditional permit to drill for oil under Century II.

Layton specifically cited concerns from residents and businesses in the Delano District west of downtown, as well as the Wichita Downtown Development Corp.

“We took those concerns seriously,” he said.

Layton said he sent an e-mail to John Schlegel, the city’s planning director, asking him to tell the Wichita Area Planning Commission members that the city was pulling back its application.

The city had sought the permit so it could lease the drilling rights to Trek AEC, a Texas company that proposed to drill underground from the Arkansas River’s west bank east to under city-owned Century II.

Withdrawing the permit request effectively kills the project, which had perked the city’s interest in hopes that it would provide a revenue stream for a tight budget.

Trek AEC representatives couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.

There were indications Friday’s action was a strong possibility last week, when the planning commission approved the city’s request to defer consideration of Trek AEC’s proposal a month.

Although Layton had the legal authority to withdraw the application, he touched base with City Council members before proceeding.

“We pretty much all said to withdraw it, including me,” said City Council member Jeff Longwell, who had been a longtime proponent of oil drilling downtown before softening on that stance recently. “There were too many issues down there. At this point, it’s the right thing to do.”

Concerns ranged from the odor and cluttered sight that the drilling would create to damaging possibilities for other development projects.

In August, The Eagle reported that the $24 million River Vista apartment project at First and McClean would pull out if drilling was allowed.

Chris Ruffin of Ruffin Properties said last week that drilling would cost the company its lease with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, one of the biggest tenants in the Delano District. He said drilling also would mean his company would shelve plans for another building nearby and cancel plans for a restaurant at 520 W. Douglas.

“There was a lot of opposition to the drilling,” council member Janet Miller said. “A lot of valid points were raised. Delano had real concerns about the impact of the operations on their businesses and residences as well as future plans that called for green space in that area.”

She noted that the downtown development group said the project conflicted with its downtown master plan.

“They had a real concern about utilizing prime development land for that type of operation,” Miller said.

A study showed there was a 1-in-15 chance of finding oil that would produce $1 million in annual oil revenue for the city from the drilling.

“For business reasons, we thought it was important to pursue the possible revenue stream for the city,” Layton said. “However, there were concerns about urban drilling, concerns that it would have a detrimental impact – possibly on the environment but also on economic development in the area.”

Layton said he would “not close the door” to exploring the possibility of drilling for oil on other city-owned property.

“We’re also mindful of the comments and concerns by the people,” he said.

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