Options for oil drilling in downtown Wichita remain

A controversial plan to drill for oil under Century II is not dead, but city officials are skeptical that it will move forward anytime soon.

The one interested local driller, Trek AEC, has offered alternative approaches to drilling from near the Delano neighborhood, according to city officials: direct drilling on the Century II site or nearby, including a pipeline that could conceivably pass near the WaterWalk downtown development.

“I do know they’re working through some options,” said John Schlegel, who heads the city’s planning department, “including a couple that involve the site itself and some land near BG Products.”

Ten days ago, the downtown drilling idea appeared dead when the city withdrew its application to the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission to drill from Delano under the Arkansas River to Century II. Public protests led the city to back away, City Manager Robert Layton said in a note to planning officials.

The two “trial balloons,” as Schlegel put it, that have been floated are to drill directly on the Century II site and pipe the oil to the property near BG Products — which is essentially adjacent to Kellogg — or to drill from a site near Kellogg diagonally toward Century II.

Former council member Greg Ferris, a spokesman for Trek AEC, said the options his clients originally proposed to city staff are “just too far away” from Century II to be viable.

“At this point, we’re sitting and waiting for the city,” Ferris said. “If at some point in time the city decides they want to proceed we believe we are the preferred developer, but there’s nothing really right now.”

The city has other property where it can drill, council members said — land near Mid-Continent and Jabara airports — and that may be the best place to start while downtown redevelops.

The new possible drilling options were a surprise to Wichita developer Jack DeBoer, whose properties at WaterWalk and the Hotel at WaterWalk could be affected by the drilling.

“I haven’t heard a word about it,” he said.

It’s unclear whether a repackaged drilling proposal would have any immediate traction at City Hall. Several council members said that the idea probably should be shelved — for now.

“Oh, I don’t know that is ever going to come back up again,” council member Jeff Longwell said last week about the downtown drilling plan.

“My sense is that the council found the idea interesting, but as we heard from the public — and I’m just finishing up with all the cards on my desk from people who think drilling is a bad idea — we understood that the public didn’t agree,” Mayor Carl Brewer said.

The new proposed drilling sites represent the latest attempt to pursue what some geologists call a significant oil pool almost a mile under Century II. Schlegel said Friday that Alan DeGood, the longtime Wichita oilman and Trek official, “still believes pretty strongly that there’s oil under there.”

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