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Vian passes disposal well ordinance

February 01, 2010
Vian city leaders have passed stringent ordinances regulating injection wells, including giving the Cherokee Nation approval authority over all wells.

The ordinance was in response to a proposed injection well inside the Vian city limits. Approval of the well, proposed by I-Mac Petroleum Services Inc. of Muskogee, was recommended by an Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) judge, but the opposition, including the tribe, has appealed that recommendation.

Larry Vickers Jr., Vian attorney, presented the ordinances drawn up by the Cherokee Nation to the Vian Town Council. According to Vickers and the meeting agenda, the council discussed and voted on the status of an emergency existing in regard to the proposed saltwater injection well and other oil and gas related wells being placed within the town’s limits. The council went into executive session at 6:47 p.m. and returned at 7:42 p.m. with a unanimous decision to approve the ordinances.

Vian well owner Charles Brooks said he felt his company had made the town a substantial offer earlier in the year when he offered to donate $50,000 to the town for the first year after the well goes into operation and then a $10,000 donation annually to the town for the next 10 years thereafter.

“We just want to make peace with the town,” Brooks said. “And, we’d still be open to sitting down and letting them know how they could benefit from this well.

“But to propose an annual inspection fee of $75,000 in these ordinances and $100 fee per truck is just over the top,” Brooks said. “I feel like the main purpose or intent of this is to keep us out of there (Vian) and it’s directed at us, that’s obvious. But to my knowledge there is no other industry that has an annual inspection fee of such a staggering amount. I think the OCC’s inspection fee is $1,000 annually, but these fees are totally way out of line. Even the $100 a truck fee is totally exorbitant — just out of the world.”

Many Vian residents fear the well will pollute ground, surface and even drinking water, but their fears are unfounded, said Greg Riepl, a geologist hired by I-MAC. Riepl has been a geologist for more than 30 years working primarily in Oklahoma and has experience with saltwater disposal wells.

“It’s a complex issue,” Riepl said. “I’m very sorry these folks have gotten so upset about it but there really isn’t going to be a problem.”

Riepl said protests of disposal wells aren’t uncommon, but he’s not used to the level of opposition shown in this case.

“It’s really kind of unusual to be this type of protest,” he said. “I think part of the problem is Sequoyah County is an area that isn’t familiar with the oil and gas industry. These wells are pretty common throughout the state of Oklahoma and for the most part operate safely and effectively.”

An appeal to the OCC Administrative Law Judge Kathleen M. McKeown’s ruling to grant the injection well was filed by the town and Cherokee Nation.

Vian trustees argue that while the judge acknowledged the location of the proposed site and its close proximity of Vian Public School and local businesses, she failed to recognize the proximity of residences within the same area and did not address the negative impact of the site on any such locations, the economic impact the site could have on the local economy or the impact of the injected fluids at the Sequoyah Fuels plant that occurred in the same area of the proposed site.

The appeal also argues that while the judge acknowledged the site’s close location to the Sequoyah Wildlife Refuge, and the Arkansas, Canadian and Illinois Rivers, she failed to consider the detrimental effects that the well site could have on these natural resources.

The OCC has remanded the case back to the administrative law judge to determine if the well site is within the city limits of Vian and how the OCC’s authority to permit an injection well could be affected by municipal ordinances.

Tom Elkins, the Cherokee Nation administrator of Environmental Programs, said from a scientific standpoint, saltwater injection wells really aren’t that bad because they inject the water underground where there is already saltwater.

“That’s what this well is supposedly for,” Elkins said. “What they’re wanting to do with that is take water from oil wells and inject their production water – saltwater – back into these formations.”
The formations underground where I-MAC plans to inject the disposal water is already saltwater, and it won’t affect drinking water, he said.

“It’s well below the freshwater that anybody would drink,” Elkins said. “The controversy is if that saltwater is spilled, it can for many, many decades ruin the ground for crops or anything. If the well itself is not completed, and if the cement and grout – the sealing stuff that seals the well on the sides – isn’t done well, that saltwater can leak into other formations before it gets into that saltwater formation where they’re wanting to inject it.”

The town and Cherokee Nation, which are fighting the proposed well, are hoping the referee will overturn the judge’s decision and find the well to not be in compliance with rules and regulations set forth by the OCC.
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