Victoria Commissioners hesitate to support proposed increased transparency on injection wells

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

April 21, 2014 at 7 p.m.
Updated April 20, 2014 at 11:21 p.m.

The process for applying for, protesting and approving injection well permits could see changes at the hands of concerned Victoria County residents.

Lisa Campbell, a Victoria public health nurse and associate professor at Texas Tech University, polled Victoria County Commissioners on Monday about three changes she said will increase transparency and improve public participation when it comes to disposing saltwater and oil and gas waste.

"The whole idea is to empower our local citizens and the citizens of Texas," Campbell said, later adding that the long-term health implications of injection wells is still unknown.

Rather than requiring legislative action, Texas citizens can suggest changes to the Railroad Commission under the Texas Administrative Code.

The proposal could be brought forward from a resident but would have more teeth with the entire county's backing, Campbell said.

The changes "don't add an undue burden to oil and gas companies," Campbell said. "It reduces some of the burden on our commissioners to have to continually police everything."

However, County Judge Don Pozzi ended the meeting without a clear consensus whether the five-person court of elected officials would back the proposal.

Campbell, with input from a University of Texas law professor and a team of law students, worked about 300 hours drafting the three-pronged proposal, which was presented Monday at the Victoria County Commissioners Court meeting.

Current rules require injection well applicants to notify anyone within a half-mile radius and publish a notice in the newspaper of record.

The proposal expands that to any adjacent property owners along with creating a mailing list for interested persons to receive notice and would require applications to include a map clearly identifying the proposed well and identifying a list of all chemicals to be injected. By not requesting the chemical percentage makeup, the proposal, if approved, would not infringe upon trade secrets.

She said the proposal brings the Railroad Commission into alignment with Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Pozzi drove the conversation from the dais, questioning whether Campbell first checked if the changes could be made without legislative action.

He offered to bring the item forward for discussion at a later meeting and suggested Campbell present her proposal to the legislative committee of the Texas Association of Counties at an upcoming conference.

He said the current notification rules on injection well permits aren't "as effective as they would be under the proposal."

"I think you're going to have a lot more success if you were supported statewide as to one county," Pozzi said.

The change would impact the entire state.

After the meeting, Campbell said she felt "deflated" by the lack of response from commissioners.

"They had a hard time separating landowner's rights to have oil and gas on their property from injection wells," she said. "These are for waste with chemicals, and they impact the health of the community, and those people have a right to know about it."

She said elected officials have "a fiduciary responsibility" to protect residents' health and safety.

By broadening the notification standards, residents would have more tools and better information to speak on their own behalf, she said.



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