The Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission delayed a decision on a much-debated proposal for a Sioux County disposal site for wastewater from oil exploration.
The commission heard 2½ hours of public comment Tuesday at its Sidney headquarters before convening a specific hearing on the proposal from Terex Energy Corp. The Broomfield, Colorado-based company wants to truck salty groundwater and chemical-laden fracking wastewater that result from oil searches and production in Wyoming, Colorado and, eventually, Nebraska, to a ranch north of Mitchell, Nebraska. As much as 10,000 barrels a day of the water would be injected into an old oil well on the ranch.
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The state already has more than 140 injection wells for the disposal of wastewater, but the well north of Mitchell would be the largest.
Critics of the proposal have cited possible threats to surface water and the Ogallala aquifer. Company officials deny the plan poses any threat to water resources.
Judy Broeder, who lives near the well site, said she was afraid that people say "there's nothing there" when they think about Sioux County in the Nebraska Panhandle. But she noted that Sioux County needs its water, too.
"If we don't have water, as my 94-year-old dad said, it'll just be rattlesnakes and rabbits," Broeder said. "Ask a thirsty person: 'Do you want water, or do you want crude?'"
Terex would filter the wastewater on site. Then it would be pumped through a coated metal pipe, which is surrounded by a second pipe, then concrete, then another pipe and then more concrete. Company vice president of geology Marty Gottlob said the chemicals in the water are no more dangerous than what can be found in a kitchen cupboard.
But Jenny Hughson, whose ranch is adjacent to the site, said health organizations have found that chemicals under a kitchen sink are the most common source of accidental poisoning of children.
Congress has exempted the fracking wastewater from classification as hazardous waste. But it can contain benzene, toluene and other organic compounds, along with heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury and lead, plus varying levels of radiation. Fracking fluids also contain chemicals that help break rock formations and free trapped oil and gas.
Dave Laucomer, whose family owns the ground leased to Terex for the well, said he has no concerns about the proposed operation.
"I have a clear conscience about this," Laucomer said.
The commission has 30 days to make its ruling.