The smoke that billowed from tanks that caught fire Monday afternoon in DeWitt County likely contained hundreds of toxic byproducts of the oil and gas industry, environmental advocates said Tuesday.
But the fumes from the fiberglass tanks that burned were likely worse for people in the area to breathe.
“Fiberglass tanks are cheaper than metal tanks, but they burn, whereas metal does not,” said Neil Carman, the clean air program director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.
The tanks contained oil field brine.
According to the Texas Railroad Commission, oil field brine is water with varying levels of salinity that is found in the same geologic formations that produce oil and gas. This water comes up simultaneously with the production of oil and gas. However, small quantities of substances used in the drilling, completion and production operations of a well may be mixed in.
The fire was reported at 3:35 p.m. in the 7800 block of Farm-to-Market Road 108. One person was injured, and it took firefighters from multiple agencies seven hours to extinguish the fire, said Cyndi Smith, the county’s emergency management coordinator.
Smith on Tuesday declined to say who the tanks belonged to, but the Texas Railroad Commission, which was called to investigate the fire, determine whether any rules were broken and oversee the cleanup, identified the tanks as belonging to Goodnight Midstream Permian, LLC.
Ramona Nye, a spokeswoman for the agency, said there were 14 tanks at the site, 12 of which were fiberglass and two of which were steel. She said the fiberglass tanks, which could hold 21,500 gallons each, caught fire while the steel tanks, which could hold 43,000 gallons each, were impacted by heat.
Texas Railroad Commission records show that Goodnight Midstream operates hundreds of wells, including one in DeWitt County near the site of Monday’s fire. The company can inject oil field brine into this well at a rate of about a million gallons per day. The well was last inspected in July 2018 and passed.
The Advocate couldn’t find Railroad Commission records Tuesday that would show whether Goodnight Midstream has ever broken a rule related to how it keeps the oil field brine before injecting it.
Goodnight Midstream is based in Dallas and could not be immediately reached Tuesday for comment.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said it was not investigating the fire.
“Realize that these rural wastewater disposal sites are often quite a ways from the TCEQ regional offices, perhaps even one to two hours in some cases, and they have complaints and investigations to carry out, making a timely response challenging,” said Carman, who used to work for the TCEQ.
DeWitt County is part of TCEQ’s Region 14, which has an office in Corpus Christi.
Carman said if people who live or work near where the fire took place complained of smelling rotten eggs and experienced headaches or nausea, the TCEQ could sample the air. The TCEQ has a rule that says “no person may cause, suffer, allow or permit emissions of hydrogen sulfide from a source or sources operated on a property or multiple sources operated on contiguous properties to exceed a net ground level concentration of 0.08 parts per million averaged over any 30-minute period if the downwind concentration of hydrogen sulfide affects a property used for residential, business or commercial properties.” A Google Maps aerial view of the site shows it is in a rural area, though.
This is at least the fifth fire involving tanks holding oil field brine in DeWitt County since November 2016.