So even if a Kansas well is less productive, it can still be very profitable. SandRidge Energy of Oklahoma has leased 1.3 million acres in Kansas and claims it's able to get a 55 percent financial return on wells.
"It's a very low risk area that has a high rate of return," CEO Tom Ward said in a conference call with analysts.
The company plans to spend $700 million in Kansas next year and drill 180 to 200 wells.
After being absent from Kansas for nearly three decades, Big Oil has also decided to return.
Shell Oil has leased about 700,000 acres and drilled a dozen wells so far with mixed results. But a company executive believes there is a "huge upside" in Kansas that could last for decades.
"This is for real," said David Todd, vice president of production for the Shell Exploration & Production Co.
How much oil and natural gas the drillers will find in the Mississippian play is difficult to peg because of the lack of estimates.
But IHS, a global information company whose vice chairman is Daniel Yergin, the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book on oil, "The Quest," recently penned a number for some of its clients.
IHS estimates that the formation has 3.6 billion BOE, which stands for barrels of oil equivalent. BOE includes barrels of crude oil and converts natural gas from cubic feet, its typical measurement, into barrels that have the energy equivalence of oil.
North Dakota's Bakken field, by comparison, has reserves of 12.4 billion BOE.
But the Mississippi Lime formation "doesn't have to be a Bakken to be a big deal," said Rex Buchanan, interim director of the Kansas Geological Survey.
Most of the drilling so far has been in Kansas counties along the Oklahoma border.
Farney, the mayor of Kiowa, flies his own plane and at night sees a landscape around town that has been transformed by drilling rigs lit up and operating 24 hours a day.
"At night it used to be dark in the country and it's not anymore," he said.
The Center for Applied Economics at the University of Kansas said in a recent report that the state's economy should see $116 million in extra income from new jobs and royalties in the first quarter of 2013. If there is a full-blown boom, that would soar to $1.1 billion a quarter by 2022.
The report sought to be conservative by assuming there would be 7,500 wells drilled, although there could be more.
State officials have also traveled to North Dakota for advice. They saw a state overwhelmed.
Oil workers making six-figure incomes are living in homeless shelters because of the lack of housing. Many restaurants have to open at 4 p.m. because of a labor shortage that leaves high school students the only ones available for the jobs. Road and bridges are in bad shape because of heavy truck traffic.
Nothing like that is happening in Kansas yet, although in some parts of the state the traffic is rising and motels haven't had a vacancy for months.
Richardson, the retired farmer, still owns about 1,000 acres near Hutchinson. He remembers that not long ago the typical lease payment for drilling rights was $3 an acre and one-eighth of the price of the oil recovered. He recently leased the drilling rights to part of his land for $300 an acre and one-sixth the value of the oil produced.
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