The QueQue: Fracking waste leads to injection well standoff in Wilson County, Beer dreams get upper hand in Hays Street Bridge scuffle, Bexar County jail suicide by spoon
Published: July 3, 2012
Fracking waste leads to injection well standoff in Wilson County
The air outside Trudi Buckley's rural Wilson County home stinks with the noxious odor of hydrogen sulfide, the smell seeping from a waste injection well just 150 yards outside her house. "That rotten egg, that sulfur smell is always there," she said. Touring the property Friday, her 20-year-old son Dusty said, "I'm afraid I've gotten used to it."
Like the 52,000 waste disposal wells drilled across the state of Texas, the nearly two-decade-old well outside Buckley's home was drilled to shoot hazardous waste from oil and gas fields thousands of feet* into the earth. With oil and gas production teeming in the Eagle Ford to the south, a new well owner is asking the Texas Railroad Commission to sign off on a permit boosting the well's intake, tripling the amount of waste it can take along with the pressure with which it's shot underground.
Locals gathered in La Vernia Friday for a town hall expressed overwhelming opposition to the new permit, saying there's increased risk of toxic runoff into the nearby Cibolo Creek, which runs about a quarter mile from the site of the injection well, feeding into the Guadalupe River, its estuary, and a coastal bay. A local group calling themselves the Wilson County Community Values Association have filed to block the permit, insisting there's too great a risk the well might breach and contaminate the aquifer below, tainting the area's drinking water. "If you can't tell me with 100 percent certainty that our water's not in danger, than we don't want it," said Todd Budde, who helps lead the group. Budde says the group has about 200 letters of opposition on file with the RRC, and that they've so far spent about $30,000 on a petroleum engineer and lawyer protesting the permit. Representatives with Geomeg, the Dripping Springs-based owners of the well, did not return calls for comment.
Scientists and former environmental regulators have begun to openly challenge the long-held assumption that such waste injection wells can safely store toxic liquid for millennia by encasing the waste deep in layers of rock. Critics contend industry could be changing the earth's geology by creating fractures that allow water and waste to flow freely. One 2006 report published by scientists with the Department of Energy and the University of Texas notes that the high pressure with which industry injects the chemicals into the ground can work to connect deep geologic layers with more shallow ones, possibly letting the toxic fluids seep through the earth.
Critics are weary of the integrity of such waste injection wells — encased, like oil and gas wells, in concrete and steel, often running miles underground. According to a recent ProPublica investigation, in Texas one in every three oil and gas waste disposal wells in 2010 were flagged for "mechanical integrity" violations. Harold Schott, until two months ago the mayor of La Vernia, said he worries more nearby injections wells could derail local projects to drill municipal water wells – the city's been wasting money trucking in water, he said. And the age of the proposed well gives him pause. The well was first drilled in 1993. It's unclear what infrastructure improvements, if any, Geomeg would be required to undertake as it increases volume and pressure in the well. "It would be like taking your 1968 Volkswagen and taking it to NASCAR and expecting it to do well," he said.