State Rep. Chris Turner wants the Texas Railroad Commission to hold a hearing in Tarrant County before ruling on a controversial permit for a proposed saltwater injection well near the shores of Lake Arlington.
Turner says concerned community members may find it hard to travel to Austin for a hearing the agency has scheduled before an administrative law judge on May 24-25. Turner would like to see the commission conduct a separate public hearing closer to the people who would be impacted by their decision.
“At the very least, if the railroad commission is considering this permit application, I think they need to come to Tarrant County and hear from residents,” Turner said. For example, he said the agency held a town hall in Azle after a rash of earthquakes in 2014. “I don’t know of anything that prevents them from doing it.”
In a letter to the commission, the Grand Prairie Democrat — whose district includes parts of Arlington — also voiced his opposition to placing an injection well near Lake Arlington since it plays a major role in the water supply chain for North Texas. The commission regulates the oil and gas industry in Texas.
The commission is taking several steps to accommodate “the high level of public interest in this case,” including accepting public comment in writing or by email, said spokeswoman Ramona Nye. Additionally, the commission has secured a larger hearing room with webcasting capability.
BlueStone Natural Resources II of Tulsa filed a permit request with the commission in January seeking to drill the well on the western edge of Lake Arlington to collect excess gas and brackish, or salty, water produced by the company’s natural gas wells in the immediate area.
The proposed injection well would be located in an area of far east Fort Worth near Loop 820, about 9,300 feet from Lake Arlington Dam. In its application, BlueStone says it would drill a well that would go down as far as 11,600 feet and that the deepest freshwater zone is about 2,000 feet below the surface.
Both Fort Worth and Arlington — which have banned injection wells — and the Trinity River Authority have filed protest letters with the commission. Arlington’s letter raised concerns about the threat to water quality and that seismic activity linked to injection wells may threaten the dam.
BlueStone has said the proposed well’s location meets the commission’s strict guidelines “aimed at ensuring that a proposed project have no adverse effects on the surrounding community or environment.”
The permit request may trigger a fight over how far cities can go in regulating the oil and gas industry after the passage of House Bill 40 two years ago. The legislation restated the state’s authority over the energy sector and limited how far cities can go in controlling their operations.
The law includes a four-part test for allowing cities a limited ability to regulate drilling operations above ground, but largely leaves anything below ground in the control of the state.
Turner said House Bill 40 went too far in stripping cities of their ability to regulate oil and gas operations, especially since it would allow the commission to grant the permit in spite of reasonable city ordinances on both sides of the lake.
“I voted against House Bill 40 two years ago exactly for this kind of reason,” he said. “It virtually nullified ordinances for cities.”