On the morning of June 6, observers met with Clayton Nicolarie, environmental investigator from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), and four EPA representatives – led by Omar Martinez, Environmental Scientist /Ground Water/Underground Injection Control Program, Jateen Mistry (EPA observer) and an EPA intern.
The representatives arrived to test water in five wells supplying the Panola-Bethany public water supply. The tests are being conducted at the request of Pastor David Hudson Jr. and local citizens who expressed concerns of contaminated groundwater from active and abandoned salt water injection wells at a community meeting at Church of The Living God PGT Temple #17 10980, Springridge Texas Stateline Road, Keithville, LA 71047, held during July 2011.
Last summer, the EPA was summoned to the area to meet with Pastor Hudson and affected members of the community to address issues and concerns about possible toxic levels of contaminants found in drinking water servicing patrons of the PB Water Supply. Hudson, who is a cancer patient, paid to have water from the tap in his home tested for toxins and contaminants. Test results were more than alarming. Testing confirmed the presence of arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, selenium, silver and benzene in the PB Water supply.
Hudson then juxtaposed the PB water test results with his own blood test results, finding the following toxic contaminates in both: arscenic, cadmium, lead wb venous, mercury and selenium. A notice attached to the water quality report reads “Special Notice for the ELDERLY, INFANTS, CANCER PATIENTS, people with HIV/AIDS or other immune problems: Some people may be more vulnerable to contaminants in drinking water than the general population. These people should seek advice about drinking water from their health care providers.” Pastor Hudson expressed, “I’ve contacted the EPA, TCEQ and my health provider. To this date, I do not have an answer to my concerns with respect to my elevated problems as a cancer patient buying and being charged for contaminated drinking water.”
Failure to enforce laws regulating the disposal of hazardous material byproducts produced by local oil and gas drilling has contaminated a local aquifer and land, simultaneously creating an almost ubiquitous public nuisance in the form of noise, a significant increase in traffic, dust and unsafe driving from tractor trailer drivers, said Hudson. These practices resulted in at least one death of a local, young college student. “Saltwater” or “brine” may sound harmless. It may even remind you of a fond memory of once-in-a-lifetime distant, coastal vacation.
Panola County citizens living adjacent to areas under gas exploration and extraction of oil and natural gas couldn’t be further from it. This “saltwater” is actually a mixture of saltwater, chemicals used for drilling, and deposits of other contaminants above or around the desired gas/oil deposit including but not limited to benzene, lead and arsenic. These byproducts are toxic and expensive to move to the appropriate hazardous material disposal sites. The profitable option was to lease or buy land close to the drilling site, drill a deep hole into Earth, and introduce this toxic concoction injecting into the Earth’s crust. Herein lays the problem’s catalyst.
Once these saltwater injection wells are filled, they are to be sealed. Once sealed, an injection well is no longer active. Inactive injection wells are to be periodically inspected for leaks and structural faults that pose or potentially pose a risk to the environment and community. Hudson informed me that he knows of “… no person or agency that checks these sealed wells for breached casings, which can cause toxic carcinogens to be leached into the local water tables, springs and aquifers.” Abandoned, inactive wells appear to be common place in Panola County. Aquifers and ground water isn’t, leading us to share theses resources.
EPA water testing involved collecting water samples from the wells (before treatment) via a valve discharging ground water through an above-ground pipe. Samples were carefully taken by Chris Lister and Carl Wells from the EPA’s enforcement division. Water was placed in collapsible, plastic, bag-like containers and what appeared to be glass jars and vials. The only field testing observed was PH testing, which was in the 7.2-7.5 range, slightly above the PH of bottled, distilled water. Scientists wore gloves in an attempt to prevent cross-contamination and removed air bubbles from the containers before sealing. Next, samples were labeled and bagged to be shipped to a lab for split sample testing. According to Martinez, the water will be tested for toxic, hydrocarbons and contaminates, including “benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene.” TCEQ tests typically cover testing chlorine levels as well as infrastructure hardware (pipes, valves, etc.), serving patrons of the water supply. Testing took approximately one hour per well.
Results will be available for review within 90 days, providing copies to the TCEQ, Panola-Bethany Water Supply, and Pastor Hudson. The battle for clean, safe, municipal drinking water trudges closer to the objective of attaining this basic right in our small, rural community in the great state of Texas.
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