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Disposal well complaint results in DNR hearing

A Corydon man’s request that the state suspend a gas well company’s plans to install a saltwater disposal well southwest of Corydon prompted an informal hearing earlier this month by the Indiana Dept. of Natural Resources’ Division of Oil and Gas.
Carl Wiseman, who lives on Whippoorwill Lane, said in a letter to the DNR that a Class II disposal well that Quicksilver Resources intends to install on adjoining property ‘will cause decrease in property value and lessen the quality of life I have had here for 30 years.’
He is also concerned about the disposal well being built close to his water well.
The DNR scheduled a one-hour informal hearing, which lasted almost two hours, for Dec. 7 at the Wright Interpretive Center in Corydon. However, the DNR did not make any decision regarding Quicksilver’s application at the hearing, which is normal. Instead, DNR officials said it would be two to four weeks before they decided whether a formal hearing is necessary.
Mona Nemecek, a petroleum geologist with the DNR permitting and compliance section, said the fluid that would be injected into Quicksilver’s well ‘is brine that will be recovered along with the oil and natural gas produced … ‘
The brine must be disposed of in a legally approved manner, she said, with the most common method being injection back into a rock formation that is porous enough to contain it.
Nemecek said this is the safest method of disposal.
Quicksilver, a Fort Worth firm, made its application for the disposal well last September.
Nemecek outlined the permit process: An application is received then reviewed for compliance and construction; the public is notified of the intentions through a legal notice in a local publication; an informal hearing is held if requested, and a formal hearing takes place if necessary.
During the review process, the DNR checks all known existing wells in a quarter-mile of the injection zone, and reviews geological conditions, operating specifications of the proposed well and anticipated fluid levels.
In Indiana, injection wells are monitored through quarterly reports, annual inspections and a file review every five years ‘to make sure it’s still in compliance and no situation around the well as changed,’ Nemecek said.
Mike Nickolaus, director of oil and gas for the DNR, said inspectors use gauges provided by the state when testing equipment, rather than relying on the operator’s equipment.
Inspections are unannounced. He added that the state lacks inspectors, with eight field inspectors responsible for the state’s nearly 1,288 wells.
‘Indiana is a very, very small player in oil and gas production,’ Nemecek said.
Nickolaus said Indiana ranks 28th of 30 states that produce gas and oil. Most of the wells are in agricultural areas, he said.
The DNR is required to make quarterly reports to the USDA office in Chicago, ‘to make sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing,’ Nickolaus said.
A surface leak can result in vegetation loss and soil compaction, which makes it difficult to get vegetation back, Nickolaus said.
Asked about leaks in waterways, he said, ‘There is enough dilution usually that it has no impact when it gets in a stream.’
Contaminations throughout the state have occurred ‘but are rare and not an everyday occurrence,’ Nickolaus said. They mostly impact abandoned wells that weren’t documented in the application process because no one knew about them.
‘We don’t want anyone’s water to be affected,’ he said. ‘One is too many.’
If the DNR believes the location of a proposed well would threaten anyone’s ground water, the application would be denied, according to Nickolaus.
In the case of a leak, ‘the first thing we do is shut down the injection wells within a half-mile,’ Nickolaus said.
Another point he made is that in the case of contamination, the oil and gas statute does not require the operator to make restitution to the landowner. ‘They would have to file a civil lawsuit,’ he said.
Nemecek said Quicksilver’s application for the injection well near Whippoorwill Lane meets DNR construction requirements.
‘Very few applications get denied because they meet the statute,’ Nickolaus said.
Mark Stephenson, Quicksilver’s regulatory affairs manager, spoke near the end of the hearing. He told the audience that he hopes Quicksilver’s efforts to better communicate their plans will help alleviate public concerns in the future.
Quicksilver operates more than 2,000 wells in Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, Texas, Wyoming and Canada, he said. It has 186 gas wells and eight salt water disposal wells, in Harrison County.
‘So we have a lot of experience,’ Stephenson said. ‘This is not something new to us.’
Quicksilver has invested more than $40 million in Harrison County, he said. Royalty payments exceed $3,700,000, which includes $1,400,000 in the first three quarters of this year.
‘Quicksilver is committed to the protection of public safety and the environment,’ he said. ‘We welcome regular inspection of our facilities and operations by the DNR and other agencies to ensure compliance … and Quicksilver wants to be a good neighbor in the areas that we operate and a responsible, contributing member of the local community.’
He said they try to consolidate facilities in order to impact fewer people.