Thursday, October 11, 2007

Injection Wells in Fort Worth: Some Facts

The League of Women Voters has been busy this week. I attended the voter's forum the other night, but on Monday, the League's Environmental Committee had a meeting with Brian Boerner, the Director of Environmental Management for the City of Fort Worth. A friend sent me the minutes of this meeting. It's quite an eye-opener. The words are from the meeting minutes, not my own. Emphasis and smart-ass comments are mine though:

"The purpose of the meeting was to share concerns about the potential for additional water disposal injection wells within the City of Fort Worth. Chesapeake Energy already has a permit to drill one such well in East Fort Worth. They would like to drill at least 15 more wells.

"According to Mr. Boerner, they have already received permission from DFW Airport to drill two wells on airport property, one on the north end and one on the south. Walsh Ranch, a large planned development on the far west side of Fort Worth, already has some water injection wells. The City has no control of these wells in its extra-territorial-jurisdiction (ETJ).

"According to Mr. Boerner, the water injection wells create environmental risk in an urban environment. The waste water from the fracing process is saturated with salt and contains some chemicals. [Editor's Note: Really?!?!?] The salt derives from the salt in the Barnett Shale itself.

"There appears to be some question as to the degree of hazard that the fracing chemicals present. However, there is no doubt that the black-water mixture is corrosive and not only kills vegetation, but prevents its growth for an extended period. Injection wells are a dirty process.

"Transporting the water to the well must be done via air-polluting, road damaging trucks or pipelines [Editor's note: Apologies to Chris Turner. I'll buy you a Dr Pepper to make up for it. But still, it sounds like crazy-people talk.] that are subject to leaks. Drilling the well improperly can cause the ground water to be polluted. Leaks are difficult to track and much environmental harm can be done before the leak is found. Water well injection well operators have no incentive to prevent leaks. They are paid by the amount of water they take from the drillers, not the amount that is injected.

"As a result, the City of Fort Worth has a moratorium on the drilling of these wells, a moratorium that is proposed to be extended another six months until the City can develop adequate regulations. The City has what is called a grant of privilege for commercial trash collection which allows the City to license commercial trash haulers within the City and to levy a fee on the trucks to cover road wear. Such a fee could potentially be levied on salt water haulers within the City.

"Gas drillers have the power of eminent domain to lay gas pipes. However, they do not have such power to lay water pipes.

"The City can control the placement of gas and water wells through its land use powers. However, the portion of the gas or water well below the surface is controlled by the Railroad Commission. A recent audit of this agency found limited capacity to inspect the large number of oil and gas wells in the state. Numerous problems were discovered. According to the Railroad Commission’s web site, the Fort Worth basin alone has 7,499 operating gas wells with more being permitted each day, but as far as we know, the Railroad Commission was not given additional staffing authorization in the last Legislative session.

"Gas drilling has never been done in an urban setting on the magnitude planned for the Fort Worth area putting pressure on a system devised for rural areas where safety and environmental protection is not as critical as it is in an area with a population of almost 1.5 million.

"We talked briefly about the potential for recycling the production water from the gas wells. We were familiar with the evaporative and reverse osmosis processes, but not the flocculation method which Mr. Boerner says can recover a higher amount of water than the other two methods. The major impediment is that water injection wells are much cheaper for drillers even factoring in increased water and hauling costs. They may not, however, be cheaper for the community which has to deal with the externalities of the injection process. [Editor's Note: As I suspected: injection wells aren't the best way, just the cheapest way, to dispose of this toxic water. Chesapeake Energy contends they are doing Fort Worth a world of good. How does pumping toxic water into the earth good for Fort Worth? Really. I'm asking.]

Of particular concern to Mr. Boerner are the small areas within the confines of Fort Worth that for some reason have never been annexed into the City. These areas are under the jurisdiction of Tarrant County, which has no land use powers. As a result, this land could be used for water injection wells and do environmental harm to City residents with no City recourse.

"The League’s next step will be to prepare a letter for the Mayor and City Council supporting a six-month extension to the water injection well moratorium within the City. We also plan to begin to try to inform our respective City Council members about the environmental and safety issues surrounding gas drilling."

Absolutely shocking. I recommend you write the Mayor and your City Council representative and recommend that they do everything they can to keep injection wells out of Fort Worth.


TXsharon said...

Get a copy of the permit Chesapeake had to file for the injection well. It will list the chemicals they are allowed and that they INTEND to inject.


Anonymous said...

The Scariest Comment made in your post is the "gas drillers have the power of eminent Domain"

Question: How powerfull does one have to be when a Non-government, FOR PROFIT industry can take your land away from you?

I support your cause and wish you luck! The power needs to go back to the people for change, but the people have to be willing to do so. Keep educating the masses and I feel sure that change can and will occurr! Ft. Worth, don't be lost like those in Wise County are! I pray that Ft. Worth Can DO!

Bret Starr said...

Steve-O, when the tide of public opinion turns against Urban Gas Drilling, you will be among the people remembered for your devotion to the issue and to keeping Fort Worth a great town. Thanks for your attention to detail and the hours you spend educating the public.