Wichita oilman fined $10,000 for environmental violations in Butler County

A Wichita oilman has been hit with $10,000 in fines for violating state regulations designed to protect groundwater from oil- and gas-related contamination.

The Kansas Corporation Commission levied that penalty Tuesday against Benjamin M. Giles for violations at two wells near Towanda in Butler County.

Giles said he plans to appeal.

"My side is I didn't do anything wrong," he said. "I did everything with their approval."

Giles referred further questions to his attorney, who said he couldn't comment without Giles' permission.

The commission found that Giles had failed to follow required procedures for casing or plugging the two oil wells at issue, to ensure that they wouldn't harm usable groundwater near the surface.

When wells aren't properly cased or plugged, it can be a dual threat to usable groundwater, officials said.

Oil, natural gas and saltwater from deep below the surface can rise through an uncased well and pollute fresh groundwater closer to the surface. Or the near-surface groundwater can run down the drill hole and be lost, reducing supplies available for drinking and irrigation use.

Commission documents and testimony indicate that in one case, Giles pulled the casing out of an old oil well in 2014 and didn't replace it until 2016.

"The Operator did not take necessary precautions nor did the Operator act with any diligence to effectively prevent migration of oil, gas, or water," the commission order said.

The commission staff initially recommended a $10,000 fine for that violation, but the commission reduced it to $7,500 since the problem has been fixed.

The commission also ruled that Giles hasn't proven that another one of his wells is properly cased and fined him $2,500 for that violation.

Dion Lefler; 316-268-6527; @DionKansas