The following Op-Ed was submitted by the Citizens Allied for Integrity and Accountability. Note: Op-Eds do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of those at the Idaho Dispatch.
In his recent Op-Ed, Richard Brown attempted to discredit Citizens Allied for Integrity and Accountability (CAIA) by politicizing the advocacy group’s sustained efforts to protect Idahoans and their property. The owner of Arkansas-based Snake River Oil and Gas characterized the org’s press release notifying citizens of an upcoming EPA hearing concerning the company’s application for the first Idaho class II injection well as “fearmongering and false narrative” to undermine the “good work that has been taking place in southwest Idaho”.
Let’s examine that “good work”. Mr. Brown’s frustration is understandable given his near decade long attempt to recoup his, and bankrupt former partner Alta Mesa’s reported $160 million investment in this nascent oil and gas play. It must be embarrassing that in the past decade since modern drilling started here (after 85 years of commercial failure by larger oil companies) the never-ending promises of massive riches and countless jobs this industry was suppose to deliver have never materialized. Drilling has rendered only a handful of permanent jobs, has cost taxpayers far more than it has benefitted them in severance taxes, sparked a class action lawsuit by angry landowners who claimed they were cheated out of their royalties, and multiple lawsuits by home owners who are being forced to allow the extraction of the oil and gas they own against their will with inadequate compensation for the risks they are being exposed to. Now Mr. Brown wants to bring dangerous class II disposal wells into the mix. Let’s examine the facts.
Mr. Brown calls CAIA a “radical, democracy-stopping, anti-industry organization”.
TRUTH: CAIA won a 2018 due process lawsuit on behalf of property owners when a US District Court Judge ruled that forcing Idaho citizens to turn over their valuable mineral rights against their will to Richard and his partners violated the US Constitution. In reality, CAIA uses the constitution to support democracy.
Mr. Brown takes a cheap shot at politicizing the issues by labeling CAIA as “liberal with an agenda”.
TRUTH: CAIA’s non-partisan, all-volunteer membership includes people from all political ideologies and all walks of life. All Idahoans – regardless of political affiliation – want safe water to drink, clean air to breathe, and their property and civil rights protected from polluting industries operating irresponsibly in their communities. Our only ‘agenda’ is to protect citizens’ rights to be safe and secure in what to most folks is their greatest lifetime investment – their home.
Mr. Brown disputes our statement regarding ‘dozens’ of oil and gas wells in the Treasure Valley – asserting that “In fact, Snake River Oil and Gas has only five wells producing, with two more planned for production soon”.
TRUTH: On the day Mr. Brown’s Op-Ed was published, time stamped screenshots of the official well logs on the Idaho Oil and Gas Conservation Commission website – regulatory body for this industry – showed 10 of his wells currently producing and the 3 most recently drilled wells being prepared for production. https://ogcc.idaho.gov/well-files/.
Mr. Brown also objects to CAIA’s generalization of how many oil and gas wells Snake River has planned for future development.
TRUTH: When asked by a Payette County Commissioner at a very public meeting just over a year ago how much of the (gas) ‘field’ had been developed so far, Mr. Brown put that figure at about 5%. If the 22 hydrocarbon wells drilled in Payette County at that point only represented 5% of the planned build out, we’re talking far more than dozens of new wells. He also failed to mention the hundreds of thousand of acres of active oil and gas drilling leases secured across the Treasure Valley, including under our iconic Boise, Payette and Snake Rivers, multiple major roadways, and in residential areas. Idahoans are not fools – they can read the writing on the wall.
Mr. Brown misleads readers by asserting that “EPA did not “bypass” the “State ban”; the State of Idaho requested that EPA administer the Class II program in Idaho”.
TRUTH: State regulators strategized during a 2017 IOGCC meeting & injection well presentation that attempting to authorize primacy for the state over class II wells would take too long – that it took 9 years for Kentucky to do the same – and that transferring primacy to EPA would “effectively remove the current class II ban”. This was used as justification for handing control over to the EPA; surprising in a state where handing control of anything to the federal government usually evokes condemnation from conservatives – as we saw during the 90’s with the now closed Bunker Hill mine. Apparently it’s acceptable though, when an out-of-state corporation and a number of wealthy large-landowners – including elected officials from the highest office on down with personal investments in this industry – stand to benefit financially from doing so.
Mr. Brown asserts that injection of wastewater will simply return the hydrocarbon-containing ‘produced water’ to the same kind of formation where it came from, while insinuating that because that formation already contains hydrocarbons it is unusable as a productive water aquifer. He uses this as justification for the exemption to be granted by EPA.
Truth: While his description of ‘produced’ water is accurate, Brown fails to mention that wastewater also contains large volumes of highly toxic chemical additives used in drilling and recovery operations that are pumped down the wells, much of which comes back to the surface in the form of ‘flowback’.
Mr. Brown claims the ‘produced water’ would be injected into the Willow Sands 4,908 and 5,500 feet below ground and that the targeted zone will be separated from shallow drinking water aquifers by claystone confining intervals, protected by casing and cementing, extensive testing and monitoring as required by law “to ensure the well’s safe operation”. He reminds us that SROG is prohibited in the permit from injecting at pressures that would create fractures in surrounding formations.
Truth: Mr. Brown is correct in stating how the receiving horizon or formation exists at depths well below currently utilized shallow drinking water supplies. However, he avoids mentioning that the real technological challenge lies in getting the injected fluids safely down to and INTO the receiving formation, in a manner that does not contaminate aquifers “on the way down” via the inevitably poorly sealed annular space between the “protective” casing and the shallower aquifers it’s intended to “safely” bypass.
In addition, some CAIA associates with engineering and geology backgrounds share their history of reviewing cement bond logs (CBLs) for oil companies they worked for, only to commonly discover how very poor the CBLs were. In fact, a 100 percent annular seal is rare, for the simple reason that highly viscous cement is rarely pumped through the annular space in the consistent, homogeneous manner required to create an environmentally protective, void and conduit-free annular seal.
CAIA is working with Dr. Anthony R. Ingraffea Ph.D., P.E. Dist. Member ASCE, one of the world’s foremost authorities on rock mechanics, hydraulic fracturing for well stimulation, design of high pressure gas pipelines, oil/gas well drilling and cementing, and oil/gas well integrity of both conventional and unconventional wells. Dr. Ingraffea’s teachings center around the shockingly high rate of casing failures as documented by the oil and gas industry themselves and how devastating the impacts of those failures can be on water resources, property values and human and animal health. Statistics show that nearly 6% of all hydrocarbon wells fail during initial construction, with the number rising exponentially over time, and that eventually, virtually all wells will leak. Mr. Ingraffea raises a number of serious concerns on behalf of CAIA and all Idahoans regarding the DJS 2-14 well being recommissioned for waste disposal. His analysis will be on the record.
Considering this, we have the following questions for Mr. Brown:
- What is the integrity history of the subsurface annular cementation in deep oil/gas wells that require THOUSANDS of feet of protective casing?
- How are rock-hard annular voids and open conduits subsequently sealed, once they’ve been discovered as preferential pathways for injected toxic fluids that simply followed the path of least resistance into one or more shallow aquifers?
- Once aquifer contamination is confirmed, is SROG’s Pollution Liability insurance sufficient to remediate a contaminated drinking water supply – which we know can spread for many miles – when just one gallon of diesel (for instance) makes one million gallons of pristine drinking water completely unsafe to drink and wastewater reports obtained from IDEQ show levels thousands of units over acceptable limits of carcinogens like benzene and toluene, to name a few?
- How will citizens pay for expensive ($600 – $800 a pop) baseline and interval hydrocarbon panel testing of their water by a certified independent third party that is absolutely essential to being able to prove contamination by oil and gas operations and receive compensation for the damages, whether through insurance or litigation?
Mr. Brown attempts to ‘green-wash’ the work his company does. He and his supporters claim there have “been no problems” with operations here, yet lawsuits, bankruptcies, illegal drilling, acidizing and recompletion of wells, citizens complaints against bullying by landmen and trespassing by seismic crews, blatant conflicts of interest by officials and lack of transparency by state regulators tell a different story.
Mr. Brown also fails to mention that this industry is exempt from major environmental laws that virtually every other industry has to adhere to. While on the surface EPA’s draft permit may appear protective of groundwater and public health, the reality is that the oil and gas industry is exempt from the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which regulates disposal of hazardous and carcinogenic wastes. This means neither EPA nor any other regulatory agencies will be standing there during disposal to monitor what SROG pumps down that hole (much of which is classified as ‘trade secret’ anyway), at what pressures they will be injecting or whether they will adhere to the 7.3 million gallon maximum outlined in the permit. The fact is that SROG and the industry as a whole are basically self-reporting. They are on the honor system.
Finally, contrary to Mr. Brown’s characterization of CAIA as anti-oil and gas, our members rely on energy sources just like everyone else. What we are adamantly opposed to is IRRESPONSIBLE oil and gas development taking place in residential areas too close to homes and schools, churches, businesses, private and public water systems, and on the banks of our iconic rivers and public lands. Integrity is our middle name and a value we live by. CAIA will never sidestep the truth by putting out inaccurate or incomplete ‘propaganda’, or by politicizing an issue that can adversely affect so many Idaho citizens. Here at CAIA we believe in protecting the sanctity of our constitutional rights, our property rights & property values, our critical water resources and the health and safety of God’s greatest inheritance – our children.
The good readers of the Idaho Dispatch deserve to know the truth as they prepare to submit their written comments to EPA by the now extended March 30 deadline. For information on this application and how to submit comments go to: https://www.epa.gov/uic/proposed-aquifer-exemption-and-uic-class-ii-permit-willow-gas-field-idaho.
We invite anyone interested in CAIA’s good work to please reach out to us at https://integrityandaccountability.org/. Or you may email me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org for additional documentation.
Tags: Citizens Allied for Integrity and Accountability, EPA, Gas, Oil, Snake River Oil and Gas