Injection wells, like most aspects of gas drilling, elicit conflicting opinions, contradictory data and the frequent, familiar demand: "Not in my backyard!". While the wells used for the disposal of produced fracking water are not currently allowed within Dallas city limits, the issue prompted a particularly lengthy debate at yesterday's gas drilling task force meeting.
"Are we OK with prohibiting salt-water disposal wells in the city limits?" task force chair Lois Finkelman asked the group. The reason she asked: Finkelman has compiled her own list of recommendations to the task force, in order to expedite slow-going proceedings that were scheduled to wrap this month. Among the recommendations made in her "Strawman Draft" are these few words, copied from the current city ordinance: "Salt-water disposal wells are prohibited." Turns out, everyone wasn't ok with that.
"I don't understand ... I don't know why, if it's safe, we would prohibit it necessarily," said task force member Patrick Shaw, and oil-and-gas attorney. David Biegler, chairman and CEO of Southcross Energey, added that trucking fracking water to disposal sites outside city limits, which would be the only other viable alternative, "doesn't make any sense."
Finkelman asked David Cossum, assistant director of Sustainable Development and Construction, why it was included in the ordinance in the first place. He said it was in step with several surrounding cities' ordinances, and that disposal wells could also attract truck traffic from other cities. "The economics of it would probably be that you would want to take waste from other facilities," he said.
Task force members mentioned restricting the use of a disposal well for pad sites approved within the city.
"I'm a little torn about this one," said Ramon Alvarez of the Environmental Defense Fund. "I see the value of having salt-water disposal sites ... but there are also risks associated. It seems like this is a little above the charge." He suggested leaving this big decision to the city council -- since, after all, they're the "gas drilling" task force, not the "disposal" task force. "It's sort of a whole other can of worms."
Biegler disagreed: "This is part and parcel to everything we do."
Finkelman said, well, they can't just "shove it aside," and raised concerns about reports linking disposal wells to earthquakes.
"Everything we've said is 100 percent as applicable to pumping into a well as pumping out of a well," Biegler said, suggesting the task force allow disposal wells but subject them to the same rules as any other gas well. After about a half-hour of conversation, Finkelman tabled the issue for discussion next week, in order to check off several less challenging issues before the end of the meeting, which was extended by a half-hour.
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The task force also discussed water issues, another hot topic given the ongoing (and going and going ...) drought. Though Assistant City Manager Forest Turner told the council via memo last week that the city has but one current contract for gas drilling -- with Carizzo Oil & Gas, for a maximum 80 million gallons (MG) annually -- the task force repeatedly came up against the question of what restrictions Dallas Water Utilities already has in place when it comes to selling water for use in drilling. Some suggested they could just defer to DWU, or that they can suggest the water department define further restrictions for drilling companies. Finkelman tabled that discussion too, requesting more information from city staff.
Generally, the group wanted to allow the use of fresh-water ponds, but restrict produced water ponds, which can pollute soil and waterways if they leak. Biegler mentioned that, sure, there are some concerns, but eliminating produced water ponds would make on-site storage significantly more difficult and put "a mountain in front of" the possibility of recycling. Shaw athen sked, why differentiate between frack water ponds and fresh water ponds "if it's all done in the same manner?"
"It can't be, man," said anti-fracking activist Jeffrey Jacoby. Actually, he muttered it, quietly, from the crowd of about 10 people watching the meeting. Cossum interjected. "The problem with having a storage pond that's not fresh water is a wildlife issue."
In the course of yesterday's meeting, the group progressed about a quarter of the way through the topics up for deliberation. And while they ticked off many of the less controversial issues, the tough ones were left on the table to be dealt with in upcoming weeks. While the task force aims to finish the process by the end of December, the deadline might be uncomfortably tight. While discussions are lengthy and thorough, decisions are still few and far between.