Wastewater disposal plan proposed

Members of the Natural Resources Committee heard testimony March 11 on a bill that would authorize the state to deal with wastewater from oil production.

LB512, introduced by Gering Sen. John Stinner, would authorize the state Oil and Gas Commission to monitor and regulate the disposal of wastewater generated from oil and gas well production, including wastewater generated from oil and gas well production in other states, that is injected into commercial salt water injection wells in Nebraska.

Stinner said the number one priority must be the safety of the state’s water resources.

“We need to ensure that we have the appropriate amount of due diligence to make sure the quality of our water is maintained,” he said.

An assessment of 20 cents per barrel would be levied on commercial wells used for wastewater disposal imported to Nebraska from neighboring oil and gas production facilities. The revenue collected would be allocated to monitor and regulate oil and gas wastewater disposal.

Ken Winston, representing the Sierra Club of Nebraska, spoke in favor of the bill, but suggested that more research should be done first.

“We should instead establish a moratorium on the importation of [oil and gas production] wastewater into Nebraska until adequate safeguards can be put into place to protect the citizens of western Nebraska, the interests of everyone in our state and our land and water,” he said.

Patty Goodschmidt, a landowner in Sioux County, also gave proponent testimony, but cautioned against encouraging wastewater disposal in the state.

“If we allow this well, we will become the dumping ground for all of the surrounding states,” she said.

Dana Wreath, vice president of Berexco, a Kansas oil production company, opposed the bill. He said wastewater disposal wells already exist safely in the state.

“Right now in Nebraska, there is already a number of disposal and injection wells,” Wreath said. “State regulators in Nebraska would never let us do things that are unsafe or inappropriate.”

Steven Sibray, a geoscientist with the University of Nebraska—Lincoln, provided neutral testimony. He said that disposal wells do not pose a threat to the state’s groundwater resources.

“If the steel tubing [of the well] should leak, there are four layers of protection—two of steel and two of cement,” he said. “The risk of contaminating the aquifer and the danger of earthquakes is very minimal.”

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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