Environmentalists, citizens concerned about Brownback’s plan to increase “fracking”

Gov. Sam Brownback drew negative reactions last month when he requested more than $500,000 be given to the Kansas Corporation Commission to inspect oil and gas drilling sites that involve horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

The Kansas House Committee examined a bill Wednesday that would also give the KCC the authority to regulate the expansion of fracking. The Kansas Independent Oil and Gas Association is in favor of this bill, but other groups like the Sierra Club, a nationwide environmental organization, think fracking could have a negative effect on the water supply and should be downsized.

“The idea of having more energy produced here in this country is something that I think we’re all in favor of,” said Dave Kirkbride, Sierra Club regional chair. “But we’re not in favor of ruining the environment in order to accomplish that.”

The governor has also established a task force to prepare for the increasing amount of fracking along the Mississippian Lime region in south central and western Kansas.

Kirkbride, whose family ranch is located southwest of Medicine Lodge, said there are 129 new drill sites between his property and Alva, Okla., a distance of approximately 40 miles.

“It looks like southern Kansas from Medicine Lodge over east to Winfield is going to be the hotbed of this fracking activity,” Kirkbride said.

The KCC said fracking is now taking place as far north as McPherson County in north central Kansas. McPherson resident Steven Whitlock owns six acres two miles west of town, directly on top of the Equus Beds aquifer. An oil company seeking to drill on his territory approached Whitlock last spring.

“I said ‘no,’ because I’m directly on top of the aquifer that supplies water to the whole middle part of Kansas,” he said. “You don’t contaminate the aquifer. This whole idea that oil and gas is worth more than water is insane.”

Rex Buchanan, interim director of the Kansas Geological Survey, said there has never been a reported issue of groundwater contamination as a result of hydraulic fracturing in Kansas, which has been taking place since 1947.

“That’s not to say that it’s not possible for some of those drilling fluids to get to the surface, but it would take either a series of natural fractures or something pretty unusual,” he said.

However, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, communities in Wyoming and Pennsylvania have experienced contamination of local water wells due to fracking. Kirkbride is concerned that without safeguards in place, contamination could happen in Kansas, endangering animals and people.

“We don’t know what kinds of harmful substances are there, but we do know that in some places, wells became so contaminated with these chemicals that they could actually be lit on fire,” he said.

The Kansas Water Office, which is a part of Brownback’s task force, will host a water issues forum to discuss horizontal wells, fracking and water permitting later this month. Although steps are being made to regulate and control fracking in Kansas, Whitlock believes the increasing amount of drilling will lead to an irreversible catastrophe.

“My recommendation to any sane person in this state is to move. Because you’re not going to change it, and they’re going to screw it up,” he said. “They’re going to screw it up big time. So you might as well move while your property is still worth something.”

Leave a comment


  1. Bonnie

     /  February 3, 2012

    It’s refreshing to know that someone felt strongly enough to turn down the oil companies!

  2. Larry

     /  February 3, 2012

    This could be great for the economy in Kansas and oil and gas companies have been drilling through the equus beds since the 1920’s and we still can drink th water.

  3. Kim L. Johnson

     /  February 4, 2012

    Very informative article and very well written. I am very impressed with Miss Wentling’s writing ability. Thank you for the article.

    Kim L. Johnson
    McPherson, KS

  4. Angela Drew

     /  February 4, 2012


    I am a PR professional in Omaha and wanted to let you now that your article is compelling, informative, and written with excellence. Keep up the great work. You have a wonderful career ahead of you in investigative journalism.

    Angela D. Drew


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