Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Oil and gas exemptions should be eliminated

Tomorrow morning, when you get up, do not turn on the water to make your coffee. Do not brush your teeth or shave. Do not wash your face or shower. Do not wash your clothes, your dishes, or your car. Do not water your plants, your lawn, your crops, or your animals. Do not turn on your water at all.

One may ask why I would suggest doing such a bizarre thing and my answer is that you might need the practice.

Many Texas Counties are facing two critical issues regarding water: contamination and depletion.

As county commissioners work toward establishing the greatly needed Groundwater Conservation Districts (GCD), some important issues about what a GCD can and cannot do for residents desperately need clarification.

A GCD has no control over the main offender in the usage and contamination of our water because the main offender, the oil and gas industry, is exempt from any local control. A GCD has no jurisdiction and no effect over water usage and contamination by the oil and gas industry. That is why it is crucial that we demand repeal of the exemption so that we all play by the same rules.

Contamination: Injection wells are located in counties throughout the Barnett Shale area and anywhere else where fracing ocurrs. In Wise County, we have 27 commercial injection wells and approximately 200 private injection wells that drilling companies use to pump hazardous waste into the ground. This hazardous waste includes but is not limited to the following:

• fumaric acid
• tolulene
• hydrochloric acid
• ethylene glycol (antifreeze)
• aromatic hydrocarbons
• methanol
• benzene (highly carcinogenic)
• salt is the main offending ingredient and renders the water unusable

The only chemicals not allowed in injection wells are high levels of radioactive materials, medical waste, and high levels of PCBs. Please note the use of the modifier, high levels. Who determines what a high level is? Who monitors these wells to guarantee that they are operated according to regulation? Unbelievably, the wells are self-monitored by the Oil and Gas Industry! In addition, the EPA does not regulate the chemicals that are injected by the oil and gas industry into or near our underground water supply.

Drilling in the Barnett Shale area is expected to increase dramatically in the future. The increased drilling significantly elevates the probability of water contamination. A GCD will monitor our water for contamination. However, the GCD also becomes responsible for any contamination, which translates into taxpayers paying for the results of that contamination. Since the Oil and Gas Industry is self-monitored or essentially unmonitored, there is no way to prove responsibility. Just ask residents of Panola County or other areas where water contamination by drilling has occurred how they manage having all their water brought in from outside sources. Or ask about the deaths and illnesses due to water contamination.

Lifting the exemptions on Oil and Gas would allow monitoring and local control, which would create more jobs for county residents and decrease the probability of contamination of our ground water.

Depletion: Barnett Shale wells require fracturing of the limestone formation to release the oil and gas trapped within. Water, sand, and hazardous chemicals are injected under high pressure down the drilling hole to fracture the limestone. Each fracing uses between 1.5 and 6 million gallons of fresh water. According to Halliburton at the Petroleum Technology Transfer Council, each well is fraced an average of 17 times.

During a 17-month period from June 2004 to November 2005, the Railroad Commission issued 421 drilling permits in Wise County. Not every permit resulted in a well. Since water usage by the Oil and Gas Industry is not monitored, we cannot accurately determine how much Wise County water is used for drilling. However, using the 421 permits issued figure, we can create estimated, hypothetical best-case and worst-case scenarios. The best-case: 421 wells fraced 17 times each using 1.5 million gallons of water is almost 11 billion gallons of water. The worst-case: 421 wells fraced 17 times each using 6 million gallons of water is almost 43 billion gallons of water.

After fracing, the water containing hazardous chemicals is pumped into injection wells. Technology exists to clean up and reuse the frac water but currently no drilling company is routinely using that technology.

A GCD will monitor our ground water levels, alert the public when the level is low and enforce water rationing as needed. Water rationing is necessary to preserve our most precious resource. However, the Oil and Gas industry is exempt from any local rationing enforcement.

Lifting the exemptions on Oil and Gas would allow monitoring and local control of water usage by the Oil and Gas Industry. This will require more labor and will create more jobs for Wise County residents.

Plainly put, county residents will pay for any water contamination and suffer water rationing while the main offender, the Oil and Gas Industry, continues using billions of gallons of water and then pumping the contaminated remains into the ground and all the while making record-breaking profits. The industry can easily afford to play by the same rules that residents do.

Texas residents are a diverse mixture of ethnicities and political viewpoints but there is one thing we all have in common: One hundred percent of us drink water. Promoting a GCD as a panacea for water issues is misinformed and misleading. A GCD is a good and necessary start but we need to demand repeal of Oil and Gas exemptions before a GCD can fully protect our water.

The Wise County Active Democrats are ready to unite Texans to lobby for the repeal of Oil and Gas exemptions. Get involved by visiting www.wisedems.org.

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