On the Panola County (De Berry) Texas Water Contamination DebacleSomervell County Salon-Glen Rose, Rainbow, Nemo, Glass....Texas


On the Panola County (De Berry) Texas Water Contamination Debacle

12 February 2007 at 4:41:28 PM

What happens when gas companies contaminate the water supply and you, as a citizen, can't find any agency that will take responsibility for it! For FOUR YEARS.  As you read this, keep in mind that these people in this community do not have drinking water, except as brought in as bottled water, and that bottled water is expected to be cut off at the end of March. What then? How did this happen? Because gas companies are dumping wastes from gas well fracing down wells which were not secure.. and the water was contaminated. (For more background on waste injection wells, see this Texas Observer article)

The idea behind an injection well is to blast waste deep enough underground that it can’t cause problems. An injection well consists of a deep hole and a long pipe. But once the waste is underground, there are no barriers to prevent it from migrating into drinking wells, ground water, or in some cases, even bubbling back to the surface and killing vegetation.

I spoke a bit ago with David Hudson of Panola County, as I very much wanted him to come speak at the Water/Injection Wells meeting we're having on Saturday. He isn't able to come, but I wrote down his comments as fast as I could, as he is very heated (rightly so) on this issue. I"m paraphrasing in my own words. Here's part of his story from the Texas Observer site

As early as 1997, Hudson’s mother Gladies complained about contaminated water. That year, 52 of her newly planted peach trees died. Another resident, Earnestene Roberson, found green stains in the sink and oily film on her water. In 2003, tests of Hudson’s well revealed, among other things, high concentrations of benzene and petroleum hydrocarbons—contaminants related to oilfield waste. Basic Energy Services Inc., a leading well contractor, had been operating in the area, and Hudson began making calls to regulatory agencies about an abandoned, leaking injection well in the neighborhood.

First up, the issue of having contaminated water from waste injection wells isn't limited only to Panola County. He said he had heard from people not only all over the state but also from around the country who are experiencing much the same thing. In one location he heard from, the people said they have been dealing with this problem for 40 years! !!! In Rusk County, for example, there's going to be a hearing on March 12 about contamination. The problem is that poor communities are negatively impacted. If, for example, someone fighting the contamination wants to bring in expert witnesses, it's very expensive, and small communities don't have that type of money. Rusk County's case will cost over $500,000. And a tactic the gas companies try to use to divide a community is to pay out a small amoutn of money to those who live there that might testify against, thus dividing up the opposition with a view to conquer.

And what happens if the political arm gets involved? Reports get buried or reworded. Or if the governmental entity doesn't like the results, so that they don't come out the way they want, they retest, again.

On that testing. The EPA is going to go down to Panola to test the ground again for contamininants. But, and I didn't know this, O&G's are explicitly exempted from superfund cleanup monies. So, even if the EPA finds that it's oil and gas contamination, they can pass off the responsibility to someone else (why, incidentally, was the EPA called in? Because the RRC, Texas Railroad Commission, has done NOTHING to fix this.. for, again, four years). Where does this football get kicked then? To the Underground Injection Control Program, which has authority over the RRC.

Hudson said the Texas Attorney General, Greg Abbott, recently had the De Berry site tested, but the results aren't back yet. Will they be? Hudson says that if the test doesn't match the data the government expects, they retest.

At the federal level, the De Berry community has experienced three different Offices of the Inspector Generals, so nothing has gotten done there. He believes that it's a football because no one wants to take responsibility. The TCEQ, for example, doesn't want to keep supplying water to De Berry because then they would be admitting it's their responsibility. There's a company from Louisianna that was actually FINED by the EPA but so far Hudson has not been able to get a list of what contaminants poisoned the well.

Consider the process. A drilling company has rigs that break down and use various types of fluids and lubricants, including some with carcinogens, to get the rig working again. They put the waste, which is NOT ONLY SALT WATER FROM FRACKING, into reserve pits. Then, the pits are vaccuumed out and the waste taken to injection wells. Does any entity monitor what is going into the injection wells to make sure it does NOT include contaminants? No. Also, there is a difference between what type of waste goes into what class of well. Merely salt water goes into Class 2 wells, but industrial waste Class 1 wells have a different standard. Again, does any entity monitor the injection well sites to be sure what it going into the ground? No. Agai,n, back to the Texas Observer articld

With disposal wells, mechanical breakdowns, leaks, deliberate violations, and illegal injection are part of the picture. Nichols says that “breakouts”—injected fluids coming back to the surface—are “common. We used to have them happen every day.” If they have a hole in the casing or a packer (material that is supposed to seal the injection fluid at the point of injection) failure, the fluid is going to channel up and come out somewhere nearby. He says that many times there are no records of old wells, “and when it starts coming up, you’ll know.” Injection wells are also supposed to adhere to certain limits on the pressure used to inject in order to reduce the likelihood of breakouts. Operators are caught using too much pressure “pretty regular,” says Nichols. “We have operators that will hide a saltwater pump in the bushes and drag it out on the weekend, thinking we will not be around. In fact, we just caught one two weeks ago, and we caught him a couple times this year.”

What is happening to David Hudson and others in not only this community but other places in Texas shouldn't happen to a dog. Having fresh water to drink, and entities that are supposed to PROTECT that drinking water actually DO THEIR JOB and not pass the buck is a requisite for our country. Or, if they can't do it, they all need to be voted out and get people who care about health in.

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