Like a thick coat of orange slime, waste fluids from an area oil well production coat a dry creek bed on property owned by Adrian Opiela, Jr. A feeder line carrying the fluids from a well to a disposal facility ruptured on the property located about 8 miles north of Karnes City, contaminating a large area of the property and filling a large stock pond with waste fluids. Opiela is worried the spill may kill several large oak trees that have been on the property for more than 150 years.
Joe Baker photo
A huge oak tree that the Opiela family estimates is more than 150 years old stands in danger near the site of a feeder line rupture and spill of contaminants from oilfield production.
Joe Baker photo
White squares of absorbent material float in a ditch filled with waste fluids from an area drilling operation that spilled when a two-inch fiberglass feeder line ruptured on property located about eight miles north of Karnes City.
Joe Baker photo
A turtle is perched on the edge of a second stock pond that Adrian Opiela fears may be affected by a recent spill of oilfield waste fluids that contaminated a large part of his property. Family members worry about the impact of the recent spill on wildlife living on the piece of land about 600 acres in size.
KARNES COUNTY – Adrian Opiela, Jr. has learned the hard way that having oilfield pipes buried beneath his property is risky business.
And it is a lesson he has learned twice.
Last week Opiela made a very unpleasant discovery on his ranch located about 8 miles north of Karnes City in rural Karnes County when he found a major saltwater oil spill that contaminated a large area of land, at least one large stock tank, and killed many large oak trees on the property.
And to make matters worse, this isn’t the first time it has happened.
Opiela said a similar flowline break happened in the same exact place several years ago, and also killed huge oak trees on the property at that time.
It was a two-inch fiberglass flowline that ruptured for unexplained reasons, buried several feet under the ground.
“It was oozing out of the ground,” Opiela said, describing the fluids that appeared to be a mixture of saltwater and crude oil.
When it happened the first time, Opiela said he could not recall which oil and gas company was involved with the repair, but now just a few years later, he is very unhappy to find the same thing happening again, in the same place.
“It is a neglected oilfield, is what it is,” Opiela said.
Since the first flowline break, Opiela had a large stock pond dug out and he planned to build a picnic area near the large oak trees with a plaque dedicated to his father, who passed away in recent years.
“If you would see it now, you would see that it would be an embarrassment to put anything there,” Opiela said. “It looks terrible.”
As soon as Opiela found the contaminated land and stock tank, he contacted the Karnes County Sheriff’s Office who responded immediately to gather evidence as part of their investigation regarding the incident.
Opiela said he believes the most recent incident is an example of felony level gross negligence, but according to the sheriff’s office, no criminal charges have yet been filed and the matter remains under investigation.
Opiela also contacted the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Railroad Commission and the game warden.
“It was patched once before,” Opiela said. “Why didn’t they patch it right?” Apparently their patch broke. My pond is ruined. Now my cattle, we may have to quarantine them, because we don’t know what they have in their systems.”
Flowlines of this kind are the responsibility of Blackbrush, Opiela said, and they are supposed to be monitored by the company so that they will know when a line is broken and know when a leak has happened.
But if that’s the case, Opiela wonders why he was the one to discover it, instead of Blackbrush. Judging from the large volume of fluids leaked into the pond and around the area, the contaminants may have been leaking for months, Opiela added.
When Opiela visited the site with The Karnes Countywide on Friday, June 14, workers from a company named SafZone, of San Antonio, were on site with heavy equipment beginning the clean-up process.
Wade Ingle, senior partner with SafZone, said that Blackbrush Oil and Gas contacted his company with instructions to get the flowline repaired and the site cleaned up as quickly as possible.
The contaminants that flowed out of the ruptured flowline were produced fluids from a formation underneath a well-site that were on the way from the formation to a disposal well in the area, Ingle explained. The fluids were mostly saltwater mixed with small amounts of crude oil.
Vacuum trucks would remove all the fluids in the stock pond, Ingle explained, and berms would be built to contain the contamination and prevent it from spreading further in the event of a rainstorm.
“I am running vacuum trucks 24 hours a day to suck every bit of this out,” Ingle said, adding that contaminated soils would be removed by trucks and disposed of at a facility approved by the Railroad Commission.
“This is what I have been told from Blackbrush,” Ingle said. “Get it right. Get it clean. Make it happen.”
A Blackbrush production engineer named Kyle Kack who was working at the spill site said that the 2-inch fiberglass pipe was about 60 years old, but would not offer an opinion about what might have caused the line to break. He also could not explain why the break went undetected by Blackbrush.
On Monday, June 17, The Karnes Countywide reached out to Blackbrush Oil and Gas for comment regarding the incident and the company faxed a brief unsigned statement.
“We received word of the incident on Thursday, June 13,” the statement said. “Our crews were on scene the same day and remained 24/7 through Saturday. The initial clean-up is just about complete. We follow all state and national regulations concerning our operations. We immediately contacted the Texas Railroad Commission, TCEQ, EPA and the National Response Center. They are following our progress.”
It was heartbreaking, Opiela said, to see the dead trees, and the mess that the contaminants left on his property. He said his sister was crying as she videotaped the pond and surrounding area knowing that two huge oak trees, one with a circumference of 130 inches and the other with a circumference of 161 inches are in danger and possibly might die as a result of the most recent spill. Opiela estimated the age of the trees to be greater than 150 years old and his family consider them irreplaceable.
Opiela said he has been in contact with his attorney, and that it is likely a lawsuit will be filed against Blackbrush in addition to any pending criminal charges. Opiela said he wants Blackbrush to replace the oak trees that were killed with trees of the same exact size and also to do as much as possible to put the property back the way it was before.