Cries from wildlife activists have been heard and lesser prairie chickens are now protected by the federal government. "Nobody wants to be the first guy that gets sensationalized for running over a prairie chicken latch," said Tim Sanders of Tomcat Drilling.

That fear has oil drilling at many rigs across southwest Kansas on hold. "It's hard to explain to somebody that we're going to have to delay this well for a couple of weeks because the oil company has to study where the prairie chicken latch is in existence and what the habitat is," said Sanders.

Sanders says work on a rig typically goes 24 hours a day, seven days a week in Kansas and employs hundreds of people. If that drilling continues in an endangered area, companies face penalties ranging from $25,000 to $50,000 and jail time.

"I don't expect the prairie chicken to compromise, but we're all compromising here to get the numbers up," said Sanders. "The bigger impact is going to be on people who are paid by the hour who work really, really hard."

Sanders says about 15 people work on a drill. He says if you consider each worker is married with about two kids, then multiply that by about 50 rigs in the endangered area, that's 3,000 people affected.

"You look at all the factors affecting the economy right now and we're going to let a prairie chicken affect one aspect of what Kansas does very well and that's produce oil and gas."

In response to the new federal law, Kansas passed a state law that allows the attorney general or a county prosecutor to file lawsuits against the conservation efforts. Both simultaneously go into effect Monday, May 12th.

Sanders says the state law will help, but his company's first priority is to be compliant. "Now that the (federal) law's here, the impact is going to have a devastating effect, whether it's one week or if it's the next three years."

FactFinder 12 wanted to know how long the process could take to get a permit for drilling, since that is how long employees would be out of work. We found out companies must apply through the Kansas Corporation Commission.

These are the steps:

  1. File an Intent to Drill with our Conservation Division prior to drilling. There is no charge to the operator. Prior to approving the Intent to Drill, the operator must ensure compliance with all applicable KCC regulations.
  2. Operators must file a Completion Report with our Conservation Division within 120 days of completing the drilling process. There is no charge to the operator for this filing.

FactFinder 12 asked the KCC if there is a monthly or yearly cost for the permit.  "There are no monthly or yearly fees required to drill under the permit," said Jesse Borjon with the KCC. "An assessment is paid to the State of Kansas at the time in which the oil or gas is purchased for the first time."

We also asked how long it could take to get a permit. Borjon says Intent to Drills are processed and approved the same day they are received.