The Nature Conservancy of North Texas, under the dynamic leadership of Laura Wood Johnson hosted a community wide meeting in Fort Worth, Texas, to discuss the relationship of the "environmentalist community" with Devon Energy, on of the leading natural gas drilling companies.
The meeting was well attended and one of the key subjects covered was dealing with environmental issues relating to the massive drilling in the Barnett Shale region of North Texas. This multi-billion dollar natural gas boom has been an economic prize for Fort Worth and nearby counties to the north and west. But it has not been without environmental concerns.
As this newsletter has reported, each natural gas well uses over a million gallons of water, pumped in the wells under great pressure. This water is purchased from the public water supply, but after use by the oil companies, the waste water is polluted with oil, benzene, toulene, zylene, and even radioactivity.
The traditional method of disposal of this polluted wastewater has been to pump it to the Elenberger Field (of North Texas) or the Arbuckle Field (in Oklahoma). These are underground levels of salt water or sand from 2,000 feet underground (Oklahoma) to 6,000 feet underground (Texas). The idea has been "out of sight, out of mind". But in recent years there have been numerous reports of this polluted waste water surfacing again, and the salt water and other pollutants destroying surface farmlands, or waterways.
Devon Energy acknowledged the problem. Their representative also indicated that the high use of fresh water was of concern to their company, and that Devon is now "recycling and purifying" 10% of the wastewater that it creates in the drilling process. Other oil companies have reported to us, that they are trending toward having all wastewaters sent to purification plants. The unspoken secret is being whispered in the board rooms of the big oil and gas companies. That is, even if they pump the salt water and wastewater 6000 feet below the surface, it still pollutes the underground water and soils, and has potential for later damage to the surface, or even shallower fresh water tables. Besides. Water is becoming more valuable than oil and is a resource that must be treated with greater care.
Our farms in Dawson County of West Texas are a good example of what can go wrong. Oil was discovered and drilled several years ago south of Lamesa. At the same time the wells were being drilled, suddenly a mile or two away, salt water lakes, some laced with poisons coming from underground, surfaced and grew to a point that in one case, over 150 acres of farmland was flooded and ruined.
A couple of years later the oil wells were capped off. But the salt water lakes and ruined farm land remains.
Because of events and risks such as this, Mayor Mike Moncrief of Fort Worth, Texas, and the city council, banned any salt water injection disposal wells in the city limits of Fort Worth.
The Nature Conservancy must be congratulated for providing a forum to bring out and discuss issues such as this. Also, it also brings another subject to life. That is, that oil and gas drillers must expand their use of independent environmental consultants, to inspect their operations, to help assure that no damage to the environment occurs because of thier operations.
As one of the attorneys at the Nature Conservancy symposium said: "It stands to reason that an oil or gas driller, should leave the environment as clean as they found it. If they mess something up, they should clean it up."
With $7 BILLION dollars in new money coming in from proceeds of these oil and gas wells, the gas companies can easily afford to allocate money from these massive profits, to independent environmental reports and clean up of potential damage.