Kansas environmentalists decry order on injection wells

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas utility regulators have rejected environmentalists' request that more than 2,100 permits for injection wells be revoked because some of them did not follow regulations on the amount of time the public has to protest the projects.

The Kansas Corporation Commission on Thursday said in an order that such a small percentage of the permits had incorrect legal notices that it had an insignificant effect. The commission said less than 3 percent of the legal notices incorrectly showed 15-day public protest periods instead of the required 30-day notice, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported .

The commission's assistant attorney, Michael Duenes, said the order noted it was the responsibility of the interested parties to know they had 30 days to comment.

Duenes said between 24 and 29 permits out of 1,007 at issue in the order were granted before the 30-day comment period expired. He said the record contains no evidence that any person with a substantial interest in specific permits was hurt by the permits being approved.

"The order also finds that granting the less than 3 percent of the total applications at issue prior to the application of the 30-day protest period was harmless error based on Kansas case law," Duenes said.

Environmentalists who attended the commission meeting said the decision shows the Kansas Legislature must get involved.

Cindy Hoedel, an activist who filed complaints about the incorrect legal notices oil and gas companies were publishing, said allowing the permits because only a small number were done incorrectly is "an odd standard." She said concerns about whether injecting wastewater into the wells is causing an increase in earthquakes in Kansas are real.

"Are you going to let 3 percent of bank robbers not go to jail because it's only 3 percent of the total?," she said. "I think it's a very odd argument. It's clear there's a culture of secrecy and pro-industry bias at the KCC, and it's going to take the Legislature to get involved to protect Kansans."

Mike Schmidt, an engineer, said during more than 40 years he has had to follow all legal technicalities and he was upset that oil and gas companies aren't being held to the same standard.

"It's just ludicrous that they would just wave their hand and allow these oil companies to continue to operate on permits that are bogus," he said. "It's just unbelievable."

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Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, http://www.cjonline.com