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Eagle Ford: Landowners unite to protect property rights, aquifer
Diane Savage, chair of the Wilson County Water Action Project (right), reads a letter from Wilson County Pct. 4 Commissioner Larry Wiley as Texas Sen. Judith Zaffirini listens attentively during the welcome portion of a Nov. 1 meeting in Stockdale regarding injection wells to dispose of frac water.
STOCKDALE -- Land-owners in the Eagle Ford shale oil and gas exploration counties are now facing a new challenge. While landowners negotiate how much to lease their land for oil and gas exploration, a second challenge is drifting into the Eagle Ford shale play -- protecting groundwater as companies utilize injection wells to dispose of brine and salt water, also known as frac water. On a national average, for each barrel of crude oil produced, approximately 10 barrels of salt water are produced as well.
More than 30 landowners and area officials attended a Nov. 1 meeting in the Stockdale Community Building to air concerns to state Sen. Judith Zaffirini regarding three proposed Stockdale-area injection wells.
Among the speakers was Gail Hodge, who expressed concerns about a C.R. 417 injection well that would be located approximately 100 yards from her home. She is worried about hydrogen sulfide gases, the drilling of the well within a flood plain, and increased traffic flow, she said.
Hodge and Odelle Zarsky referred to an Aug. 23 Texas Railroad Commission hearing. Zarsky alleged that when the owners of the proposed injection well testified under oath, they said they would not reside near the proposed well. She questioned why Hodge and the other five families should be subjected to living by such a well.
Also speaking was Joe K. Wiatrek, general manager of the Sunko Water Supply Corp. He urged adequate protection for the Carrizo Aquifer -- the source for fresh water in the area. Permitting for injection wells in this area “poses a great threat to the only source of water,” Wiatrek said. Allowing injection wells is “suicidal for us and future generations,” he added.
The Stockdale meeting is not the first time landowners have come together to protest injection wells. Geomeg withdrew an application for a well off F.M. 539 near La Vernia earlier this year, after many residents protested. See “Disposal well owner withdraws application,” Aug. 22 Wilson County News.
The use of injection wells is twofold. The wells are used as a means to dispose of frac water and are considered an economic boon for the owner who allows an injection well on the property. Also, with injection well operators charging $3 to $7 per barrel for the disposal, $36 million could be collected annually for just one well.
While one party is gaining monetarily, landowners within 10 miles of proposed injection wells are protesting -- not only against the increased traffic flow and the possible pollution, but the possible infringement of their right to lease to an oil company, due to the proximity to a disposal well.
Rochelle Rackham, an engineer, geologist, and local landowner residing in the area of the three proposed wells, mentioned this in her comments during the Nov. 1 meeting with Zaffirini.
“Oil production companies will not drill within a mile of a disposal well,” Rackham said. “They will not drill a lateral frac well within a 4- to 6-mile radius of a disposal well. Why? Because no one knows where the disposal well water has migrated. There is no scientific way to know the flowpath and no company can risk ruining a $1 million well because the disposal water flowed up the well.”
She also questioned the $25,000 liability bond required by the Texas Railroad Commission. While limited corporations file with a $25,000 liability bond, the cleanup surpasses this amount, “and will not even begin to clean up spills or contaminations,” she said.
Rackham spoke of the need for more environmental oversight with injection wells from the Texas Railroad Commission. Due to the lack of staff, “the Railroad Commission relies on an operator-generated report” to determine a well’s safety, she said.
In one alleged incident, the Railroad Commission had approved a disposal well for which a 3,000-foot formation was available to dispose of the water, as described in the application submitted to the state. Upon further investigation by those opposing the well, the formation was only 160 feet and a “major fault [line] existed where the disposal water could travel for miles,” Rachham said.
While Zaffirini listened attentively to the speakers who voiced their concerns, she advised those present to educate themselves regarding the issues. She also asked for suggestions as to how to protect the landowners’ property rights and the environment, and how to get involved.
One proposed solution was introduced by Rackham, who suggested drilling companies should reuse and recycle frac water and production water.
Chevron and Cabot Oil are two major companies identified by Rackham that are recycling and reusing 100 percent of their production and frac water in Pennsylvania.
Zaffirini also said changes could be forthcoming within the Texas Railroad Commission in the future, since the group asked for more environmental oversight when issuing permits.
The Texas Railroad Commission is among 24 reviews scheduled by the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission [in the 2012-13 biennium], Zaffirini said. (See “Sunset Advisory” for more.)
With the ongoing Eagle Ford shale oil and gas exploration, the Railroad Commission may become known as the “oil and gas commission” in the future, Zaffirini said.
“In 1977, the Texas Legislature created the Sunset Advisory Commission to identify and eliminate waste, duplication, and inefficiency in government agencies. The 12-member commission is a legislative body that reviews the policies and programs of more than 150 government agencies every 12 years. The commission questions the need for each agency, looks for potential duplication of other public services or programs, and considers new and innovative changes to improve each agency’s operations and activities. The Commission seeks public input through hearings on every agency under Sunset review and recommends actions on each agency to the full Legislature. In most cases, agencies under Sunset review are automatically abolished unless legislation is enacted to continue them.”
Source: Sunset Advisory Commission website
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