Novus gets first environmental green light in proposed Calhoun project
Feb. 7, 2018 at 10:12 p.m.
Updated Feb. 8, 2018 at 6 a.m.
A company that says it will produce a livestock feed supplement as well as high-paying jobs in Calhoun County easily cleared one regulatory hurdle Wednesday.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality gave Novus International permission to drill two underground injection control wells a few miles from Green Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Texas.
The company's next step will be to get the Environmental Protection Agency's approval to actually inject hazardous waste into them.
Bryan W. Shaw, chairman of the TCEQ, said during a meeting Wednesday that it was "fairly obvious" that those who had asked for a hearing hadn't proved they would be affected by the wells - a requirement for such a hearing.
He said they lived at least 10 miles away from it.
"It would be north of 3,000 - maybe 300 years at worst case scenario - before it could even move a mile, I believe," Shaw said about injected hazardous waste.
That comment encompassed the entire discussion about the matter.
Seadrift resident Diane Wilson was one of those Shaw was talking about.
She and another resident submitted to the TCEQ more than 100 pages of documents to support their request for a hearing.
Wilson is known for protesting the environmental permit applications of other companies operating in the area. She said she had planned to be at the Wednesday TCEQ meeting, but when she got stuck in traffic on Interstate 35, she "had a revelation that it wouldn't matter one iota" and turned around.
She said she is worried about the cumulative effect Novus' two wells, plus another two that Novus has applied for as its subsidiary Newton Manufacturing, and Ineos' three wells will have on the area, which provides drinking water for wildlife and tens of thousands of residents.
"Why have our elected officials locked into this concept that we can only do petrochemical, oil and gas - that we can only invest in that?" Wilson asked. "Don't they realize we're on the coast and that's what's valuable - our fishery, our birds and all of that?"
Joe "JP" Neely, the deputy project director for Novus, said in a previous interview that Ineos' experience with its wells would be a plus.
"Ineos has deep wells, so they are very familiar with how to operate deep wells. And we've hired the best engineering company and geology company to design them in a way that's safe for the environment, so I think we've done everything humanly possible to see that we are not going to contaminate the water," he said.
Some 2,000 years ago, Green Lake was a northern inlet of San Antonio Bay.
It was severed from the bay over time as the Guadalupe River shifted and deposited silt.
Green Lake is 13 miles in circumference and consists of mostly overflow from the Guadalupe River.
When it rains excessively, the lake overflows into Hog and Goff bayous, which feed into the San Antonio Bay system.
In 2012, after Calhoun County obtained two grants from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it purchased the property on which Green Lake sits for $3.5 million from the Indianola Liquidated Trust.
The plan was to make it into a park, and the county envisioned doing that in three phases.
According to a 190-page plan published in 2014 that the county created with the help of the National Park Service, it estimated all the amenities it wanted to add, including a campground, a fishing pier and walking trails, would cost between $6.6 and $6.72 million.
It said the park would be brimming with wildlife, such as white-tailed deer, foxes, alligators, red drum fish and more than 190 species of birds. This includes the whooping crane, an endangered species, and the piping plover, a threatened species, both of which have stopped at Green Lake during drought conditions.
Despite the plan, there appears to be no more investment into transforming the property.
Neither County Judge Mike Pfeifer nor Commissioner Kenny Finster, whose precinct includes Green Lake, could be reached for comment about it Wednesday afternoon.
Novus, meanwhile, brings with it jobs and tax revenue.
Specifically, the company has said it expects to pay about $71 million to Calhoun County taxing entities during its first 20 years of operation and generate 65 permanent, full-time jobs. Most will be Ineos workers who will operate Novus' plant.
And the comments to the TCEQ about Novus' well permit applications have been mostly positive so far.
One came from Victoria Advocate Publisher Dan Easton, who also serves as the president of the Victoria Economic Development Corporation board. Easton noted Novus has a good record of running a similar plant in Brazoria County and that this project will literally feed people.
"The economic benefit to our region, which has experienced a sustained, depressed economy for the past few years, will be significant," Easton wrote. "There are always inherent environmental risks in any significant industrial development project, but those risks must be weighed against the benefits of the project, too, and the needs of our region, state and nation. When viewed from that larger picture, this project clearly deserves support."
Victoria College President David Hinds also commented Novus will find an able workforce in Calhoun and Victoria counties.
"On behalf of the students, administration, faculty and staff, we are honored to participate in this new venture," he wrote.
Wednesday, the TCEQ approved a draft permit for the company's wells.
The permit states that after Novus gets approval from the EPA, waste can be injected at a maximum rate of 120 gallons per minute into the wells. The wells will be between 4,635 and 8,250 feet below ground level. The waste is considered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be flammable, corrosive, cancerous and deadly.
According to Novus' application for an additional two wells, which is at the Calhoun County Public Library, the additional wells will able to accept 150 gallons per minute of the same type of waste.
Jessica Bonsall, Novus' environmental permitting manager, said what will be injected is primarily inorganic salts and that not all of the chemicals listed on the draft permit for the two wells the TCEQ approved Wednesday will necessarily be injected.
She said Novus has abided by all rules and regulations and has not been involved in any of the planning by the county to build a park at Green Lake.
"For this particular process that Novus uses, this is the safest and most environmentally sound way to dispose of the waste," she said.