September 12, 2018

America’s State Parks Directors Honor The Nature Conservancy of Kansas

Topeka, Kan. - The National Association of State Park Directors (NASPD) recently honored The Nature Conservancy of Kansas (TNC) with its 2018 President’s Award. In 2016, TNC bought a 330-acre tract of land in Logan County that encompasses 250 acres of Niobrara chalk formations. 

The property adjoins the Smoky Valley Ranch which is owned by TNC. In 2018, the Kansas Legislature formally designated the chalk formations as Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park. The park is projected to be opened by summer 2019. The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT) and TNC are collaborating to design access to the park and build trails to protect the fragile formations and unique ecology of the area.

The Niobrara chalk formation is a layer of rock deposited about 85 million years ago. It is composed of a chalk-like sediment that settled at the bottom of an inland ocean called the Western Interior Seaway which covered most of central North America roughly 140 to 70 million years ago. The rock was exposed and eroded over time, creating the tall pillars and rugged canyons that characterize the Little Jerusalem badlands.

In addition to breathtaking views, Little Jerusalem is also home to wildlife - from bats and ferruginous hawks to snakes, toads and lizards – and plants found nowhere else in the world.

“Without the help of the Conservancy staff, Kansas would not have this beautiful landscape as a part of its state park system,” said Linda Lanterman, NASPD president and Kansas state parks director. “TNC and KDWPT are committed to making this property accessible to visitors, while ensuring that the fragile terrain is protected.”

Prominent members of The Nature Conservancy of Kansas who have worked especially diligently to protect and make the Little Jerusalem badlands accessible include Rob Manes, Kris Knight and Matt Bain.

Nurses At Research And Menorah Hospitals OK Strike As Contract Negotiations Drag On

Research Medical Center's 700 nurses have authorized a strike if ongoing contract issues are not resolved.

Registered nurses at 15 hospitals owned by the nation's largest for-profit hospital chain — including Research Medical Center and Menorah Medical Center — have voted to authorize a strike if contract negotiations remain at an impasse.
The 15 hospitals in Missouri, Kansas, Florida, Texas and Nevada are owned by HCA Healthcare Inc. and employ about 7,000 RNs affiliated with the National Nurses Organizing Committee, or NNOC.
The nurses voted to authorize NNOC's negotiators to call a strike if issues raised during ongoing contract negotiations remain unresolved, according to a statement by the nurse’s union.
Those issues include nurse turnover rates, recruitment and retention, and compliance with the hospitals’ staffing grids.
Staffing grids are meant to ensure the right ratio of nurses to patients, taking into account the acuteness of the patients’ conditions.
Between them, Kansas City, Missouri, -based Research and Overland Park, Kansas, -based Menorah have more than 1,000 registered nurses. Both hospitals are part of HCA Midwest Health, which owns eight hospitals in the Kansas City area and is part of HCA Healthcare.
In 2017, Nashville-based HCA Healthcare posted a $2.22 billion profit on revenues of $43.6 billion.
Leslie Rogers, an operating room nurse at Research for 43 years and a member of NNOC’s negotiating team, said Research does not have a problem recruiting nurses. She said it has a problem retaining them.
Rogers said 400 registered nurses have left Research since the nurses’ last contract took effect three years ago. Some of them retired, but Rogers said many left because “they were disenchanted by the staffing grid not being solid.”
“What happens is the hospital sets their own staffing grid according to acuity and when the nurses report to duty it’s not being followed,” she said.
“What we're asking them to do is to follow their own grid that they established that we want to follow. But that's not being done,” she said.
In a statement, HCA said that Research and Menorah “deeply value our nurses and the compassionate care they provide to our patients.” 
HCA said its turnover rates “are stable and reducing” and its staffing grids meet national standards.
The company said it would “not allow union negotiating tactics to come between the admiration and trust we have for our nurses.” 
“Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for tactics like this to be used when a union and an employer are in contract negotiations, as is the case with this nursing union,” HCA said. “We look forward to continuing our negotiations.  Patient care will not be disrupted.”
The vote to authorize a strike does not mean the nurses will go on strike, only that if negotiations remain at an impasse, striking is an option. The nurses have been working without a contract since June 1.
The issues at play have been festering for months.
In June, registered nurses at Research staged an informational picket and rallyurging hospital management to reduce RN turnover and to comply with its staffing grids.
At the time, the union contended nurse-to-patient ratios in December 2017 showed the inpatient oncology unit at Research was 66 percent understaffed, the intensive care unit 21 percent understaffed and the orthopedic, neurology and trauma unit 52 percent understaffed.
Rogers said the union has proposed more staggered shifts as one solution to the staffing problem. She said the hospital “actually permitted a short trial and we felt that it was successful,” but the hospital discontinued it.
Contract negotiations resume next week.  

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To Drill Or Not? Kansas Oil Operators Make Tough Call On Future Of Industry

A crew from Express Well Service works on a well in western Kansas.
To be an oil person in Kansas is to understand that bad times follow good and that betting on any dip or upswing is a game for suckers.
Yet it can be so tempting when crude prices soar. There’s so much money to be made.
Or, of course, lost.
The far-flung, mostly small and independent oil and gas companies in the state found themselves laid flat by the bust of 2014.
It still stings.
So now, as oil prices creep upward, the drillers and pumpers emerge anxiously — wary both of missing out on high prices for their commodity or firing up production only to get slammed by yet another price tumble.
“We haven’t spent much money,” said Jeremey Ulrich, a production specialist for Scheck Oil Operations. “We try to do everything as a minimum because we’re still scared.”
That anxiety haunts the state’s oil industry. That’s why, in the offices of one operator after the next, tough calls loom about bringing existing wells to life and whether to dare drill anew.
How quickly those companies dispatch crews and invest in production could determine how well Kansas might cash in on rising energy prices. Don’t blame them if they’re slow to cash in — and worried whether investments made now could lead to bankruptcy if a cave-in of prices comes the way it did four years ago.
An Express Well Service rig

Some signs that the Kansas oil and gas industry is beginning to awake from its nearly four-year-long slumber can be found in the oil fields of western Kansas.
Far from the interstate, down long dirt roads, crews on grimy oil well service rigs are once again pulling pipe and greasing pump jacks. They’re slowly helping to restart an industry still anxious about recent losses.
About 15 miles east of Hays, Kansas, Luis Fernandez works with his crew of roughnecks to check for a possible leak in the concrete casing of a well. The job is just one of dozens on a growing list Express Well Service is hustling to keep up with after years with too little work.
Coming off earlier boom years, Express found itself forced to cut back its workers’ hours and even lay off some folks.
“You go from working 70 hours a week down to 20 hours a week. That’s tough,” Fernandez said.
At its peak in late 2014, the price of oil was more than $100 a barrel, but it bottomed out at as little as $26 a barrel in early 2016.
With prices that low, the industry came to a near halt. Companies couldn’t afford to service the wells they had, much less drill new ones.
“Nobody thought it would last three years,” said Ulrich, the production specialist. “Everybody thought it would be over in 10, 11 months.”
Before prices collapsed, the Kansas oil industry pumped almost 50 million barrels a year.
In 2017, Kansas only produced 35 million barrels of oil.
Meanwhile, the price of oil has slowly started to tick back upIn July, oil went for as high as $70 a barrel. That tempted many in the industry to start pumping again.
And that means a lot more work for Express Oil Service.
“We’re behind,” said Tom Casey, who owns Express. “We have a backlog of wells to work on — a significant backlog — and it’s been that way for the last several months.”
While Casey says he has enough rigs to get the jobs done, he’s having a hard time finding people who are willing to work on them.
“The unemployment office — I work with Hays, Great Bend, and Salina — and they are all saying there’s just not hardly anybody out there looking for a job, especially a hard job like ours,” he said.
Even as the moneyand the oil, starts to flow again, the prospect of another price dip, like the one in 2015, hangs over every decision companies make.

“Calling it a dip is a gross understatement,” said Will Darrah, who runs a small oil company based in Wichita. “I would have called it a crushing, soul-destroying period of the oil and gas business.”
In the first few years after the crash, Darrah's company only drilled one new well. But this year, he plans on drilling 10 new wells.
“It’s time to get over the beating that we’ve had and go out and try our luck again,” he said.
And he’s not alone with that sentiment. The number of requests for new wells filed with state regulators has been steadily increasing the past six months.
In April, the Kansas Corporation Commission approved 141 requests. By August, that number had risen to 236.
“We are heading into an acceleration right now,” he said.
But not everyone is as eager as Darrah to jump back into exploration and drilling.
Take Scott Lawson, of the Edmiston Oil company.
He has no plans to drill new wells.
“We’ve decided to spend our money catching up on some of the things we decided not to do during the downturn,” Lawson said.
While he likes where the price of oil is now, he’d like to see it stay there for six to eight months before investing money in new wells.
“No matter what you do, someone else tells you how much your product is worth,” he said. “And because of that, you have to be constantly looking at all the variables making sure that you don’t get overextended or left behind.”
Even without new wells, Lawson says his company is still increasing the amount of oil it’s producing and, more importantly, making money again.
“There is a lot more optimism,” he said. “People that are coming into work aren’t slouched over, waiting for another grind.”
Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.