Debate over hydraulic fracturing continues

HARPER COUNTY, Kansas – Shell pulled its fracking operation out of Kansas last summer putting 650,000 acres it owned back on the market after spending two years exploring and drilling for oil.

“There are people that said it’s done,” said Mike Lanie, Harper County Economic Development. “There is nothing here, but now we know when you see this, see all the activity yourself, it’s far from done.”

Lanie says Shell made no promises and made it clear the company was in an exploration phase.

Industry experts say there wasn’t enough energy being produced to keep the oil giant in Kansas, and smaller oil companies have since taken over where Shell left off.

“They made a lot of friendships and all that, so when they pulled out, yeah, it was kind of a deal that was a little bit sad,” said Lanie. “But, I told them even though you’ve pulled out, you’ve helped us a bunch because you have the awareness of what is going on here, and they always told me we’d still have a big oil expansion here anyway.”

The Kansas Independent Oil and Gas Association points to the 67,000 jobs drilling for oil and gas creates state-wide, and although hydraulic fracturing is gaining more attention than ever, the first fracking well in the world was tapped in Kansas back in 1947.

But putting money aside, the fracking process is drawing criticism from the Sierra Club for allegedly causing pollution and wasting one of the most precious commodities in Kansas, water.

Fracking opponents say the environmental risks are not worth the financial rewards.

“They are not getting the production they want, and so essentially, those companies are going to leave anyway. They are still going to have contamination,” said Yvonne Cather, Kansas Sierra Club Chair.

The oil industry has been kind to Harper County in terms of tax valuations.

In 2004, the industry brought in $8.2 million to the county going up to more than $22 million by 2006.

After a down year in 2010 with $13 million, Shell arrived in 2011 and revenues were back up to $24 million hitting an all time high of nearly $50 million last year.

County leaders point to the success of retailers like this liquor store or that gas station, but step across the street and other business owners say they aren’t doing as well as they could be.

“You got a pie, and there is only so much there for everybody to take from,” said Matt Brannon, Harper Hotel Red Rooster Cafe. “Well, at this point before Shell came in, there was enough for everybody to survive on what was there. Now, you bring in more businesses wanting a bite of that pie, it’s still unclear what’s going to happen.”

While two large hotels were built within a 10 mile radius in Harper County to accommodate drilling workers, other projects like an apartment complex were scaled back or never completed because the demand didn’t meet some business owner’s expectations.

Lanie says he understands some are disappointed with the results, but he insists oil and the revenue it brings won’t be going away anytime soon.

“I think they will be drilling in Kansas for years and years to come,” said Lanie. “I don’t know if it’s going to stick around. I certainly don’t think it’s going to be here in the capacity that they thought it was going to be, but even if it was gone tomorrow, Harper is going back to the way it was, and any wounds that have been opened, I think Harper is a good enough place those wounds are going to heal.”

In Kansas,Governor Brownback formed a task force to study the environmental impact of fracking and to find out if it could be related to an uptick in seismic activity.

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