County commissioner to bring Bloomington well protest to state

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

Oct. 7, 2013 at 5:07 a.m.
Updated Oct. 8, 2013 at 5:08 a.m.

A Bloomington protest against a saltwater injection well could soon wind up before state elected officials.

Commissioner Danny Garcia said during Monday's commissioners court meeting that he plans to bring the protest this month to the Railroad Commission of Texas against a wastewater injection well proposed in his precinct.

Petrodome Operating, a Houston-based company, is in the permitting process to use an existing well as a disposal well for the Eagle Ford Shale. If approved, the well would become the 20th active disposal well in the county.

Because the existing well is upstream from the community's three water wells, Garcia said he is concerned for the community's water supply.

"It doesn't matter how far down they drill, they're going through the aquifer," Garcia said. "There aren't any guarantees that everything will go perfectly. If anything goes wrong, it will disturb the water supply for the community."

According to Petrodome's notice, published Sept. 19, the wastewater would be injected into the strata between 3,470 and 4,230 feet deep.

Wastewater disposal wells are similar to oil and gas wells. Built with concrete and steel, the tubes can extend miles below the earth's surface. Where they end, the wells open into natural rock formations, seeping out waste and filling tiny spaces left between the grains in rock.

Dr. Lisa Campbell, of Victoria, who spoke during Monday's meeting, said she plans to join Garcia in the protest to the railroad commission.

"If their health is impacted, it impacts us," she said. "There's a direct economic and health impact on our citizens regardless of where they live in the county."

She is concerned about methane contamination to the community's drinking water.

The Environmental Protection Agency reports that of the estimated 144,000 oil and gas-related wells operating in the United States, more than 2 billion gallons of brine, or saltwater, is injected into the ground every day. Most oil and gas injection wells are in Texas, California, Oklahoma and Kansas.

According to ProPublica, a nonprofit watchdog organization, federal officials and many geologists insist that the risks posed by disposal wells are minimal, accidents are uncommon, and groundwater reserves remain safe from threats posed by injecting toxic chemicals into the ground.

However, the organization's review of more than 220,000 well inspections found that structural failures inside injection wells are routine.

"From late 2007 to late 2010, one well integrity violation was issued for every six deep injection wells examined - more than 17,000 violations nationally," according to ProPublica. "More than 7,000 wells showed signs that their walls were leaking."

The organization's investigation also revealed that wells are frequently operated in violation of safety regulations and under conditions that greatly increase the risk of fluid leakage and the threat of water contamination.

Victoria Public Works Director Lynn Short said the city constantly monitors water for contaminants both before and after the treatment process.

"Typically with water, you usually can remove just about anything," he said. "However, there is a wide array of costs for that treatment."

Regardless of oil industry activity, contamination is always a concern, he said. He said some variables that come into play are the distance from other wells, the formation the well is drilled into and how that formation interacts with drinking water and aquifers.

"Communities always need to be vigilant about protecting their water supply," he said. "In Victoria, we have a number of alternatives available to us. ... If we did see something, we can switch to an alternative on the interim basis to continue supplying citizens with water."



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