Plan for Waste Injection Well in Conroe Oil Field Ignites Controversy in Texas

Concerned residents of Conroe, Texas have been fighting a five year battle to prevent the opening of an underground landfill on an <"">old oil field because of concerns it will poison aquifers that provide drinking water to millions of people. According to a report in the Houston Chronicle, the underground landfill, which would be operated by TexCom Gulf Disposal LLC, has already been approved by Texas environmental officials, despite the objections of area residents, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and a multibillion-dollar oil company – Denbury Onshore LLC.

According to the Chronicle report, underground landfills similar to the one TexCom wants to operate in Conroe have caused problems for other Texas Communities. For example, in 2005, waste from annother injection well bubbled up through other wells in Chico, Texas. Even though the problem was resolved, elevated levels of <"">radioactivity forced the shutdown of municipal water wells.

In Winona, an East Texas town, a company was forced to close its injection well in 1997 because of a variety of spills and other problems. Residents there claim the problems led to an increase in cancer rates and birth defects.

According to the Chronicle report, TexCom wants to inject “nonhazardous” waste into a well thousands of feet underground. But though the waste is classified nonhazardous, it could include trace amounts of toxic chemicals, including cancer-causing benzene.

The problem is, the underground landfill would be located in the Conroe oil field, which is littered with old oil wells that in some cases date back to the 1930s. Some of those old wells may not be properly capped, and the EPA and some engineers worry that those old wells could act as a conduit for the waste, allowing it to pollute aquifers.

In an odd turn of events, Denbury Onshore LLC has joined Conroe residents and environmentalists in opposing the plan. According to the Chronicle, Denbury Onshore has invested millions in an oil drilling project in the Conroe oil field. It doesn’t want the landfill there because of concerns that pressures created by the oil production and the waste injection could contaminate the precious minerals it is mining.

Even the Texas Railroad Commission has said the oil and gas resources could be harmed by the landfill, and recently rescinded a “no harm” letter it had earlier issued for the planned injection well.

But even with all this opposition, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality approved a permit for operation of the landfill in January — though its own two-member administrative panel advised against it.

Angry Conroe residents, state lawmakers, local water authorities and others have already spent $200,000 fighting TexCom, the Chronicle said. The say they are ready to go to court to stop the landfill. Now, they have a valuable and powerful ally in Denbury Onshore, which says it will exhaust its internal agency appeals and views litigation as a possible solution.

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