Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
The Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission proposed an injection well in Sioux County to dispose of wastewater from oil exploration. This wasn’t wastewater from local oil activity. This was an out-of-state company’s application to transport 80 truckloads carrying 10,000 barrels a day of produced water across the state to be dumped in western Nebraska.
Sioux County is the most rural of areas. Located right on the Nebraska border with South Dakota and Wyoming, the entire county has a population of about 1500, and a population density of less than one person per square mile.
Naturally the Commission decided that only about two dozen people and companies located near the proposed injection qualified as “interested parties” who would be allowed to testify regarding the well.
As you might imagine, this didn’t sit well with a lot of Nebraskans, so, after a lot of public pressure, the Commission agreed to allow three hours of public comment, with each speaker limited to three minutes.
However, the Commissioners decided to hold the meeting in a small room in the Commission’s office. “We will have seating available for a maximum of 25 members of the public in the hearing area” the Commission announced. “If the number of occupants is over 25, then after a commenter has spoken they will be required to leave the commission office so that a new member of the general public can be seated.”
Over 100 people showed up, nearly all in opposition to the proposal. The photo below depicts the scene inside the room. We can only imagine the long line of people waiting outside, including a busload of students from Scottsbluff High School who made the trip to see democracy in action, and two state senators.
At the meeting the Commissioners announced that public comments would not be part of the public record, and would not be considered in their final decision on the dumping site.
No decision has yet been announced, but opponents have already said they plan to file suit to block the inevitable decision to allow the dumping site because of a violation of open meeting laws.
This happened in Montana too
Montanans will recall a similar experience with the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation (BOGC).
In December 2013, the BOGC refused to allow public comment on a proposed well in Belfry. They had to be sued to allow a public hearing, and then pointedly ignored testimony asking for landowner protections in the permit.
Clearly many state oil and gas commissions are in need of reform. The days of the BOGC acting as a state’s arm of the oil and gas industry need to end, and fairness needs to be built into the system.
While you’re working on that and waiting for it to happen, you’ll enjoy the testimony of this Nebraska farmer at last week’s hearing. He asks the Commissioners to drink some frackwater. Their reaction is priceless.
And the farmer underscores the point that there’s no way to know what’s in the water because it’s protected as a “trade secret.”
Worth four minutes.