The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

January 27, 2013

Woman concerned land could be contaminated

By Robert Barron, Staff Writer
Enid News & Eagle

WAKITA — Nevaleen Selmat fears a saltwater injection well permitted for installation near her property will leak and could contaminate water she uses for cattle.

The well would be operated by Fairway Resources Operating LLC, which obtained administrative approval for a saltwater disposal well on the site.

“We are dry here in Grant County, drier than Enid,” Selmat said. She fears the well will contaminate water by making it too salty, to the point cattle will not drink it.

She pumps about 1,000 gallons per day for her cattle, spread through three or four pastures. The well is “across the fence” east of her, and she said the original request was for a freshwater well. Now that has changed to a saltwater well.

“It’s too close to my well. My well is 30 feet deep, and I’m concerned over the contamination so cattle won’t drink it,” she said.

Some of the water on her land already is too salty to drink, she said, and she obtains her drinking water from another place. She said there are five saltwater wells within a 4-mile radius. The road going past her land is a thin layer of blacktop, and Selmat also fears the additional truck traffic will destroy it.

Selmat lives in Wakita partly because she cannot drink the water on her farm, and she is concerned it will be further contaminated. She filed a protest with Oklahoma Corporation Commission, but the oil company has not yet set a hearing date. Oklahoma Water Resources Board does not have jurisdiction over saltwater disposal wells.

Representatives of Oklahoma Corporation Commission said there are no setback requirements for saltwater disposal wells unless they are near a municipal water system.

Matt Skinner, spokesman for Oklahoma Corporation Commission, said whatever saltwater injection is done will be far below formations bearing groundwater. Oklahoma has strict requirements about disposal wells.

“The whole point is to protect the groundwater,” Skinner said.

The injection process basically is putting the water back where it came from, Skinner said. He said many times, an oil or gas well-drilling operation will have saltwater come back up, occasionally with oil and gas mixed in. That water is injected into formations that are much deeper than groundwater formations.

The process is regulated to make sure it will not impose a risk on groundwater. The rules pertain to where to run the saltwater, how much pressure and to ensure it will not impose a risk to treatable water. Saltwater injected due to hydraulic fracturing picks up chlorides along the way. Injection is done under Environmental Protection Agency rules. EPA approves the procedure and checks it each month.

“It’s far deeper than treatable water,” Skinner said. “The bottom line is, there has to be scientific evidence either for or against the well. The company has to prove this does not pose a danger to treatable water and why.”

Oklahoma Corporation Commission also wants to know how much pressure will be used and how far away the zone is. There also are requirements for how the casing is placed. Water protection is the overarching mission of Oklahoma Corporation Commission, Skinner said.

Since a protest has been filed, Fairway cannot proceed with drilling the well, but can do preparation work. A permit to drill will not be issued until the hearing is completed and resolved in the company’s favor, or the protest is withdrawn, Skinner said.

Attempts to reach officials with Fairway for comment were not successful.

The saltwater will be injected into the Arbuckle formation at a depth between 5,500 and 8,000 feet. The maximum injection pressure will be 2,780 pounds per square inch. The saltwater comes from Mississippian chat and Mississippi lime, according to the drilling report filed by Fairway with Oklahoma Corporation Commission and obtained by the News & Eagle.

In her protest letter, Selmat said before the last semantic survey was done in the late 1970s or early 1980s, she was able to drink the water at her farm headquarters. Each year after that procedure, the water increased in salt content, and today, it is undrinkable. Water must be hauled to the farm for cooking and drinking.

She said attempts have been made to obtain rural water in the area, and the most recent quote from engineers is $200 per 1,000 gallons of water. Selmat said that is prohibitive to a farm operation.

Selmat’s well is 30 feet deep and produces water that is hauled to feed cattle.

“As a working farm, it is imperative that we have enough water to care for the cattle,” she said. “Last summer, many water wells in our area dropped 9 feet or more, and in one, they could not even obtain water from the town water supply for our cattle.”

Selmat admitted the economics of the oil field are good, but asked what price others have to pay.

“We’re running out of water, and people need to wake up,” she said. “If this saltwater well could leak, over the years, saltwater will rust metal. If it goes through the concrete, it could affect my water.

“Water all over the state is a serious problem. Even the Indian tribes are fighting for water, and it needs to be addressed.”