Cheryl Moy and Dina Ramirez began the effort to stop the well about a year ago, and together they engaged many others in their battle to convince the commission to deny the permit for a well they said would make the area more congested, less safe and could potentially cause harm to groundwater resources that local people depend on.
The hearing began April 9 when the commission considered the application of Karnes County Properties, LLC for an injection well permit for the use of disposal of fluids and materials used in the production of oil and gas from area wells.
Railroad Commissioner Technical Hearings Examiner Richard Atkins summarized the item for consideration during the hearing.
Atkins said the proposed well would be located in the area near the intersection of U.S. Highway 181 and FM 1353, just outside the city limits of Karnes City, and within the extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) of Karnes City. The well would dispose into the Wilcox formation at a depth of between 6,900 feet and 8,000 feet.
According to Atkins, Karnes County Properties, LLC presented evidence that there is an industry need for additional disposal capacity in Karnes County, due to the development of the Eagle Ford formation.
“The protestants are the mayor of Karnes City and surface owners adjacent to and near the tract on which the proposed disposal well is located,” Atkins said. “They believe that the application for the proposed facility should be denied. Collectively the testimony of statements in opposition to the facility, assert that the proposed commercial disposal facility will have adverse effects on usable quality water, traffic safety, property values, and the quality of life in and around the area of the intersection of FM 1353 and U.S. Highway 181.”
Atkins, as examiner for the commission, recommended approval of the application.
Don Tymrak, who was mayor of Karnes City at the time of the hearing, spoke to the commission.
Tymrak said that approving the application for the well would go against the public interest due to its close proximity to residences, a church and a nursery school in the area and the possibility of contamination of well water as a result of the facility.
The facility, Tymrak added, would be a threat to further economic development of the area.
Although these facilities are needed, Tymrak said, they can cause harm if allowed to be built in the wrong place.
“Putting it in the wrong place, is not in the public interest,” Tymrak said.
Railroad Commission Barry Smitherman, in response to Tymrak’s remarks, said these decisions are often difficult ones.
“I am sure that even you would admit that it is that rare case where we have someone come in and ask us to decide a disposal well (issue),” Smitherman said. “Much like transmission lines, and other needed infrastructure, it is difficult. We need them in order to continue furthering oil and gas development in the state, just like we need transmission lines to move power but I can only recall one time in the last ten years when someone has asked me, ‘Please put this on my property.’”
“We know that they are necessary,” Tymrak responded, “but just not here.”
Ed Small, an attorney representing protestants Ramirez and Moy, then spoke to the commission.
Small said that while noise, dust, odor, traffic safety and property values may be among the concerns by residents opposed to the well, legal precedent has established that these concerns can not be considered by the commission in regard to denying the application.
“That is technically not our case on the issue,” Small said.
Small said the area is way over capacity in regard to permitted wells and as a result, a risk could develop in regard to overpressurization of the geologic formations underground.
“Public interest and capacity go hand in hand,” Small said. “There is plenty of capacity. This is not going to hurt oil and gas production in this area in any way.”
Jamie Nielson, an attorney for Karnes County Properties, LLC made an argument that the well application should be approved because the groundwater resources will be protected by the type of construction planned.
Nielson said there is a need for disposal capacity in the heart of the Eagle Ford Shale. Nielson said Gary Lavergne, of Karnes County Properties, has contacted ten different operators who have expressed interest in using the facility.
“I really want to focus in on this public interest test,” Smitherman said. “Because I think this is the Achilles’s Heel of this application. We really don’t have any rules which clarify public interest but we have a body of case law.”
Smitherman expressed concerns that the applicant has “zero experience” with the construction and operation of a disposal well.
Smitherman said an exhibit presented by the protestants shows that more than thirty disposal wells are located in the general vicinity, but only nine are wells that are in active use.
“There are a total of 63 permitted injection wells of all types in Karnes County,” Smitherman said, quoting records his own research uncovered. “17 are active and 46 are not yet active based on currently available reports.”
“I am going to vote to deny this application based on the public interest test, or lack thereof,” Smitherman said.
Commissioners Christi Craddick and David Porter agreed that there was insufficient need to allow the application to go forward and both voted to deny the application at this time.
Porter questioned the examiner regarding projected quantities of fluids that would need disposal.
The examiner said he presented what was given to him by Karnes County Properties, LLC.
“It seems to me that that is not a particularly accurate figure to be basing volume on,” Porter said.
Chairman Smitherman moved to deny the application and reversal of the examiner’s recommendation and the motion carried unanimously on a 3-0 vote.
Cheryl Moy, whose property is near the proposed injection well, said she was very pleased with the commission’s decision to deny the permit application and she also stressed that she would have never known about the company’s plans to drill the well if she had not seen the public notice published in The Karnes Countywide.
“I keep telling everybody – read the back of the newspaper,” Moy said. “That’s what saved us and I credit that.”
Moy said that it took quite a bit of effort to reach the group’s goal of stopping the well permit.
“It took a lot of money, but the money is immaterial,” Moy said. “It took a lot of pushing. We have been working on this since May 6 of last year.”
A large number of community members deserve credit for helping with the effort to protest the permit application, Moy said.
Moy said she and the others who worked together to protest the permit are not against the oil and gas industry or injection wells, but she does not believe they should not be on top of residential areas where homes, a nursery school and church are very close by.
According to Moy, local attorney Eric Opiela was especially helpful in guiding the group through the process of protesting such a permit.
“Mrs. Moy and Mrs. Ramirez and myself, representing Mayor Tymrak, who could not attend, testified before the Texas House of Representatives’ Energy Resources Committee regarding the need for legislative action to give the railroad commission the authority to consider the unanimous opposition of our community to a proposed location even if geology was not a factor in the community’s opposition,” Opiela said.
Opiela said the commission’s unanimous denial of the permit was “significant” because less than 25 percent of these injection well permits are denied.
“It took an all out group effort on the part of the community, unified in opposition to the proposed disposal well, to make this happen,” Opiela said.
Don Tymrak, who recently resigned from his position as mayor to accept the position of city manager for the City of Karnes City, told The Karnes Countywide that the city has an ordinance that would prohibit such facilities inside the city limits, but currently can not pass one that would apply to the city’s ETJ because state law currently does not allow for such an ordinance.
Tymrak said city officials and others are working to change state law so that in the future, cities such as Karnes City will have more authority to regulate the installation of such facilities within their ETJ, as well as inside the city limits.