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Wastewater a top issue for Stinner: Nebraska senator seeks to answer lingering questions
October 08, 2015 Frank Marquez   

Read more by Frank Marquez

Sen. John Stinner

Heading into this January’s legislative session, Nebraska Sen. John Stinner faces at least one possible thorny issue – a wastewater well site, which has produced more questions than answers.

Last April, the Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission authorized Terex Energy Corp. of Broomfield, Colo., to dispose of wastewater from its fracking operations into an existing well which sits 14 miles north of Mitchell on David Laucomer’s rangeland.

Stinner, who represents the 48th District or Scotts Bluff County where many of the concerned citizens reside, prepares for an Oct. 13 Town Hall meeting at Gering’s City Hall, where he may face questions from several local residents, who worry the well may contaminate fresh water supplies in the Ogallala Aquifer, cause safety hazards due to increased traffic, and bring premature wear and tear to the roads used by farmers and rural residents.

Equally important, he will be involved in a fact finding mission between now and Nebraska’s legislative session in January to address concerns brought by a number of those citizens. A primary issue is the integrity of the well’s encasement, and how it works to withstand pressure of the wastewater being safely shot into the ground.

“I’m trying to work within the system, and the commission,” Stinner said. “A panel of experts will be brought in on a peer-review basis. States First will conduct reviews to make sure we have a robust process that says we’re taking a look at where the well is located, and try to solve questions on seismic activity and the well’s encasement.”

According to its website, States First is a STATE-led initiative aimed at facilitating multi-state collaborative and innovative regulatory solutions for oil and natural gas producing states.
Stinner believes in an automatic shut-off if the well fails, and that a detailed process for first responders should be in place if other safety issues come into play.

“I don’t care if 40 trucks are waiting. On traffic and safety issues, what happens if a load is dumped in someone’s front lawn in Mitchell? Obviously, you don’t want your kids playing in it, or making your livestock, cattle, dogs, and cats drinking something that could kill them.”

In April, the Omaha World-Herald reported the proposed Terex operation was approved during a special meeting, in which commissioners Thomas Oliver of Bridgeport and John Rundel of Trenton voted 2-0. A third commissioner, Robert Goodwin of Sidney, recused himself citing a conflict of interest because his law partner Thomas Sonntag represented two couples with ranches adjacent to the site who oppose the well.

The World-Herald also reported that before approving the project, the commission stipulated the original proposal of 10,000 barrels a day be halved to 5,000 barrels. The well would be used to inject water from oil and natural gas production deep underground. According to the initial plan, 80 trucks a day would deliver the wastewater.

Oil field operators commonly dispose of remnant saltwater from oil and gas extraction, generally fracking operations that have existed for several decades. Terex would inject water with a high salt content, hydrocarbons and industrial compounds more than a mile into the ground, below the freshwater aquifer.

“As I look at the process, the question becomes – citizens have asked this – there are safety issues concerning the volume of trucks. There are traffic issues, and should a traffic study be done? Fracking fluids are going to be dumped; are they toxic or non-toxic? The EPA described it as non-toxic, adding that (the water) doesn’t reach a level a toxicity requiring additional placarding, or procedures.”
Aside from safety and traffic issues, Stinner also looks to develop a monitoring system, and a plan for first responders.

According to Stinner, a meeting with a number of experts including geologists and environmentalists will take place before the next the legislative session in January. A report should be made within the first two or three weeks of the session. The LB512 piece of legislation which currently sits in committee, would provide powers and duties to the Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission regarding certain wastewater and charge an assessment for certain costs.

“Obviously, in this situation, the oil and gas commission gets most of its money from in-state oil and gas production,” he said. “When they are transporting out of state, they’re not paying anything. So, I wanted to impose a 10-cent per barrel tax on the disposal of the water for monitoring purposes and a tax to rebuild the roads.”

Stinner added, “So, if we need to make some modifications, laws based on this study could be re-enacted. And, I believe, given this type of issue, it’ll get high priority.”

According to a movement called Bold Nebraska which opposes these types of wastewater wells, there are already 115 injection wells across the state, and the one north of Mitchell would be the largest among them.

“This process is about putting something in place, so with more applications for these types of wells, we’ll be ready,” Stinner said. “If you understand the (oil and gas) industry, they’re going to produce a lot more water out of these wells than we have ever had before. Then they’re introducing re-fracking, which is another way of expanding the life of the well. So, the demand for these types of wells could be heightened.”

Stinner added, “The worst thing that can happen is to have uncertainty for business. So, we want to have a process of business knows – what our procedures are, what hoops they have to jump through, how we’re going to hold (these oil and gas companies) accountable. That hopefully relieves all the uncertainties.”

To reach Sen. Stinner, call 402-471-2802, email jstinner@leg.ne.gov or visit the Nebraska Legislature website.

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