Commissioners ask state oil and gas commission to reconsider wastewater site

Scotts Bluff County Commissioner Chair Mark Masterton reads from a letter the commission ratified asking the Nebraska Oil and Gas Commission to "reconsider" the wastewater injection site proposed for Sioux County.

The Scotts Bluff County Commissioners ratified a letter to the Nebraska Oil and Gas Commission, asking the commission to “reconsider locating a waste water disposal well in Sioux County,” at their board meeting on Tuesday.

The letter expressed concerns about impacts on county highways from heavy road traffic.

“Like many of Nebraska’s counties,” the letter states, “our county is struggling to maintain its roads in usable condition. State highways, and possibly county roads, would be impacted as well and budget dollars stretched beyond reasonable limits. We have additional concerns about potential damage to our groundwater ... Western Nebraska does not need this well nor this activity.”

According to the application, the wastewater would be trucked to the site and injected more than a mile into the ground at the site of an existing Wildcat oil well on a ranch about 14 miles north of Mitchell, just east of Highway 29. The site would process an initial capacity of 10,000 barrels of wastewater per day, carried by an “initial maximum” of 80 trucks per day. It would be operated by Terex Energy Corp. of Broomfield, Colorado, and would bring water primarily from Colorado and Wyoming, with a provision in the application that would allow for water from Nebraska as well.

The board heard from the about 15 members of the public in attendance, both for and against the well.

Local citizen Becky McMillen spoke in favor the commissioners’ action, saying more regulation was needed.

“That’s why they came here,” she said, adding that she would like to see more oversight on the local and state level.

Dave Haack, who said he owned a disposal well in Kimball County, said the board “needed to do more research.” He said there were at least 10 disposal wells already in operation in Scotts Bluff County, and went on to make his case for the safety of the water.

“There’s a greater chance of contamination from sewer ponds than from waste water,” he said.

He also cited the amount of taxes the trucking companies would pay as well as the economic benefit to the area from the increase in traffic.

“I would think that we’d be encouraging more industry than prohibiting it,” he said.

Larry Birdsall, a Sioux County resident who owns land about 4 miles from the well, said he has done his own research and “can’t find anything that would concern me.”

“I just can’t see how my well can be polluted,” he said.

A handful of other citizens stood up and thanked the commissioners for ratifying the letter.

After discussion, board member Ken Meyer said it was clear that the commissioners couldn’t control the truck traffic, but emphasized his concern for the Ogallala Aquifer.

“I want to be able to fight the battles we can fight,” he said.

The public hearing to discuss Terex Energy Corporation’s application for a “salt water disposal well” in Sioux County in front of the Nebraska Oil and Gas Commission has been delayed until March 24 at 10 a.m. The commission is lacking a necessary third member.

In a separate interview with the Star-Herald, Steve Sibray, a geoscientist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who is based in Scottsbluff, studies hydrogeology in the region and believes the casing that would surround the well going down through the Ogallala Aquifer is “pretty darn good.”

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