About Air and Water

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Hot Water - Eastside activists join a growing line of folks worried about gas-drilling waste products.

By PETER GORMAN - The Fort Worth Weekly - Nov. 28, 2007
The two neighborhood activists were worried that high-speed truck traffic and spilled sand from a gas well were creating dangerous conditions along East First Street, between the Trinity River bottoms and Oakland Boulevard. “There were at least three accidents between July and September of this year, where cars just fishtailed off the road,” Mike Phipps, treasurer of the West Meadowbrook Neighborhood Association, said.

But when his partner, Ed Sakerka, went down to take pictures of the crashes and road conditions, to show the city that something needed to be done, he found an even bigger problem looming for that Eastside area.

“Ed was down there one day talking to someone who worked for Chesapeake, and the guy said ‘If you don’t like the amount of traffic here now, wait ’til all the trucks start coming through when they get the injection well finished.’” Phipps recounted.

It was the first either man had heard of an injection well planned for the Chesapeake drilling site at the old Arc Park softball field north of I-30. And what they found out has made them even more concerned about the price their part of Fort Worth may be paying for what once seemed like “free” Barnett Shale income.

Injection wells are the drilling industry’s preferred solution to the major problem of what to do with the millions of gallons of water used by the fracturing or “frac-ing” process required to free up natural gas from the Barnett Shale formation underlying much of North Texas. After the water — infused with sand and chemicals — is forced at high pressure into the shale and the gas is extracted, the leftover water is extremely salty, contaminated with carcinogens and radioactivity from naturally occurring materials, and even flammable because of traces of hydrocarbons. Drillers say recycling is too expensive, and they generally get rid of it by putting it back into the ground. But the injection sites are rarely on the same property as production wells, so companies wind up hauling the water away in heavy trucks that add even more to the street damage and dangers caused by traffic around well sites.

Fort Worth is suspicious of injection wells — so suspicious that they were banned until the city council decided in June 2006 to allow some to be drilled. Two permits were requested almost immediately, one for a shallow injection well on the North Side, which was denied, and one from Dale Energy for its site on East First Street.

The Dale request was for a deep injection well that would release wastewater into the Ellenberger Sand Formation that begins about 9,000 feet below the surface. That permit was granted and was transferred to Chesapeake Energy when that company bought up many of Dale Energy’s assets. But the council, alarmed at the shallow-well request, put a moratorium until April 2008 on any further permits, to allow safety issues to be studied.

Jim Popp, an investigator who worked with the oil and gas industry for more than 40 years, said local governments are right to be leery of injection wells — that in fact, they should be even more strictly regulated. He told Fort Worth Weekly that the wells and the liquid disposed in them are considerably more dangerous than the public has been told.

“You’ve got to understand that the terms ‘wastewater’ and ‘salt water’ are just wrong for what’s really being injected into those wells,” he said. “What you’ve got is a toxic waste dump. Plain and simple, that’s what they are.” Major spills are commonplace, he said, and can poison the air and groundwater. Tanker trucks unloading the contaminated water have blown up, and so have storage tanks at injection well sites, he said.

Even though the East First Street injection well isn’t operating yet, it’s already causing major friction between the city and gas company. Chesapeake wants to truck wastewater there from its leases all over the East Side. City officials say that goes against the logic of the ordinance.

“The city’s understanding is that the only waste that can be injected into that well is waste that comes from the wells on that immediate property,” Brian Boerner, director of the city’s Environmental Management Department, said. “We wrote the ordinance to get [wastewater] trucks off the street, not to take waste from other areas and have it trucked in to the well. But Chesapeake’s point of view is that it can take waste from any of their leases and inject it there. Which could mean more truck traffic, not less, and that’s the opposite of what we set out to accomplish.”

A Chesapeake spokesperson told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that the difference of opinion is merely a “gentlemen’s disagreement.” But privately, the company is telling people that this issue is so important that they may consider suing if the city doesn’t change its stance. Their stake in the debate is obvious: With 190 wells operating in Tarrant County alone and more being drilled daily, a disposal mechanism is critical.

A Chesapeake spokeswoman declined to comment on whether the company is considering legal action against the city.

David Lunsford, who supervises gas well inspections for the city, said the issue probably will have to be resolved by the city council, but he doesn’t expect it to happen soon. “It could take several months,” he said.

What the council finally decides will have a long-term impact. Gas developers told the council in late summer that they will need at least 15 injection disposal wells within the city limits in the next couple of years to handle all the wastewater that will be generated. For now, the waste is being trucked to commercial disposal wells in Somervell, Wise, and Parker counties. Unlike the East First Street well, which the gas company and the city agree can take waste only from Chesapeake drilling sites, commercial wells take waste from any gas or oil drilling operation that will pay the fee of about a dollar per barrel.

“Some of the wells in Erath are permitted to take 25,000 barrels of waste a day,” Popp said. “That’s great for the operator, but what about the people who live nearby? That’s more than 250 water tanker trucks a day coming and going. In Wise, where I live, the figure is 5,000 barrels a day, but that’s still 50 trucks hauling toxic waste through the neighborhood every day.

Chesapeake’s disposal well, by comparison, is allowed to take 25,000 barrels a day — about equal to the waste from 125 wells, many times more capacity than would be needed by the wells on the East First Street property alone.

And while drillers and commercial disposal companies claim that disposal wells are dug so deep and constructed so well that there is virtually no chance of aquifers being contaminated, Popp says that’s hogwash. “When the tanker delivers the waste, it isn’t injected directly into the well,” he said. “It’s transferred from the trucks to a tank and then later injected into the well. And there is a tremendous amount of spillage. Where they want to put a well near my place it’s a little above me, and that spillage is going to roll down like rainwater and pollute my stock tanks and poison the air around here.”

He noted that even if a well is properly constructed and the operator is legitimate, hazards abound. Disposal injection wells have backed up and contaminated drinking water supplies in many places in Texas, he said.

In a deadly incident just outside of San Antonio in 2003, two tanker trucks unloading wastewater at an injection site exploded when the running engine of one of them sparked a fire in the gas still mixed with the waste. Three people were killed. Afterward, the Federal Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board classified gas-well wastewater as a flammable material. In several other instances, storage tanks at injection well facilities have exploded when struck by lightning.

Part of the problem is that disposal sites, like most other aspects of the oil and gas industry in Texas, are largely self-policing, according to Ramona Nye, a spokesperson for the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates oil and gas wells.

Boerner, the environmental director, said Fort Worth has addressed the problem of explosions by requiring that all wastewater storage tanks be made from non-sparking material — “fiberglass or materials like it.”

However, one of Popp’s associates, who asked that his name not be used because of gas companies’ threats to sue him, scoffed at the notion that fiberglass or even steel tanks with lightning arresters would provide much protection.

“We had that storage tank over in Cresson in Johnson County get hit by lightning last March 29, and neighbors said it burned for six hours. And that was fiberglass,” he said. “So somebody pulled the wool over Fort Worth’s eyes if they think they’re protecting the populace with that move. And lightning rods? Well, lightning jumps. And if it jumps to a steel tank, that tank is going to go. That’s just reality.”

Popp and others sympathize with the problems facing Fort Worth and its citizens, but they’re tired of seeing gas-well waste being trucked to their counties from all over North Texas.

Popp insists that there are better solutions than disposal wells. “The gas and oil companies can desalinate the water and reuse it. They can separate out the toxic waste and dispose of it responsibly. It will cost them money, but that’s too bad,” he said. “They shouldn’t be allowed to stuff their pockets at the expense of our environment.”

Chesapeake envisions a series of underground pipelines that would transfer wastewater directly from their gas wells to their disposal sites. But Texas laws that give oil and gas companies the right to use eminent domain for transmission pipelines have no similar rights for water pipes, much less pipes carrying flammable or otherwise hazardous liquid.

“Chesapeake is working to acquire the right of way for transmission pipelines, and in the leases they’re also asking homeowners and others for the right to lay water lines at the same time,” Boerner said. “But they’ve got some big holes in their plans, so they’re still going to have to use a lot of trucks to get that water where they want it.”

“However you look at it, the issue is quality of life,” Phipps said. “And unless we can get those companies and those truck drivers to realize that this is a neighborhood and not a job site, we’re going to remain at odds.”

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Republican Control Leads Texas to Lowest Lows

From the Dallas Morning News

Texas - at or near the bottom:
  • A child is born into poverty every 7 minutes.
  • Has the highest rate of people living in poverty.
  • A child is abused or neglected every 10 minutes.
  • Texas ranks 50th for the highest teen birth rate.
  • Texas leads the country in executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976
  • 80-90% of the homeless population living on the streets are affected by mental illness. One in four is a veteran.
  • Texas ranks 50th in the nation for the most people without medical insurance.
  • Texas has the second highest rate of incarceration.
  • Texas has the second highest income gap between rich and poor.
  • Texas is the first in the nation for cancerous emissions into the air and toxic chemicals released into water.
  • Texas is home to three of the poorest counties in the nation.
  • Texas is home to three of the most polluted cities in the U.S.
  • PortArthur, Beaumont and Orange have the highest rate of cancer incident and death in the state. (hydrocarbon toxins and emissions)
  • 5.6 million do not have health insurance.
  • Texas has the highest teen birth rate and the most repeat teen births in the nation. (Texas requires middle schools to teach abstinence as the only method that is 100% effective in preventing pregnancy.)
PLEASE watch these videos and look at the images! We MUST do better! This is clear proof of the ruination that is the Republican party.

Thanks to Burnt Orange Report.

Friday, December 21, 2007

EPA Waives Clean Cars Goodbye

By Josh Dorner - Sierra Club - Issue #238 - December 21, 2007
EPA Waives Clean Cars Goodbye

The Bush Administration sure knows how to ruin a good party. On Wednesday morning, President Bush, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and a whole pack of Congressmen gathered at the Energy Department to enjoy a brief moment of peace between the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue and sing Kumbaya over the energy bill. Then, in a classic bit of Washington high theatre, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson swooped in like the Grinch and stole our Green Christmas by denying California the waiver it (along with at least 16 other states) needs to move forward with its landmark global warming emissions standards for cars.

In an evening press conference called with little more than half an hour's notice, Johnson explained that California's need to deal with global warming did not meet the "extraordinary and compelling" circumstances spelled out in the Clean Air Act and that the energy bill's compromise CAFE provision was the administration's "comprehensive" response to global warming emissions from vehicles, thank you very much. While this decision has long been expected, it was particularly galling that the energy bill, with its ink barely dry, was used as the pretext for denying the waiver.

The reaction of state officials and politicians ranged from "disappointing," "absurd," "indefensible," "a mockery of the law," to "disgraceful." But at least someone was happy. The auto industry -- fresh off yet another stinging loss in the courts just last week -- issued a glowing press statement commending EPA. California, the Sierra Club, and others of course immediately pledged to take EPA to court over the decision.

While EPA may have thought that its hastily-called, Wednesday-evening-before-Christmas presser would be enough to bury the news, they were badly mistaken. For one, the Washington Post obtained internal EPA documents that demonstrate that Johnson denied the waiver over the "unanimous recommendation of the agency's legal and technical staffs." Indeed, the EPA's own lawyers predicted they would lose in court if it denied the waiver and would almost certainly beat back an auto industry lawsuit if it approved it.

Looks like Johnson's got some 'splainin' to do. Luckily, it appears he will have no shortage of venues in which to explain exactly why he overruled his staff and participated in a possibly illegal lobbying campaign against the waiver orchestrated by the White House and the Department of Transportation. Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, whose requests for meetings with Johnson over the past two weeks went unanswered, has pledged to bring him before the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee. Similarly, Congress' Maestro of Oversight, Rep. Henry Waxman -- also of California -- expressed his outrage in a statement and indicated his own Oversight and Government Reform Committee will be delving into the process behind the denial.

As our lawyer who's been fighting this in the courts all year said, these guys are 0-4 and they are about to go 0-5.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Dale Henry Announces Candidacy For Railroad Commission - Pledges To Make Environmental Protection, Safety Priorities

By Dale Henry Campaign - Dec. 20, 2007
AUSTIN -- Dale Henry (D-Lampasas) Tuesday announced that he will seek his party's nomination for Texas Railroad Commissioner in the 2008 Democratic Primary.
"For years, the Texas Railroad Commission has made the oil and gas companies their priorities, not the people of Texas. It's time to reverse that trend," Henry said during a press conference at Texas Democratic Party Headquarters in Austin.
Public safety, environmental protection, and encouraging the utilization of safe, renewable and clean energy are Henry's top priorities. Over the past several years, the Commission has neglected both areas, Henry says.

"The Commissioners have just stuck their head in the sand when it comes to public safety and our environment," Henry notes. "As a result of their failure to use their statutory authority to require gas companies to replace faulty couplings in the Dallas area, two elderly Texans have died. And, the commission has simply looked the other way as saltwater injection wells have polluted the water supply up and down the Barnett Shale region in North Texas and in other areas of the state," Henry said.
Dale Henry has more than four decades of experience in the oil and gas industry including oil field work and a lengthy tenure in research and development for companies including Dowell, a division of Dow Chemical Company, Dowell Schlumberger, and Gearhart-Owen-both internationally and in the United States. He holds a degree in petroleum engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. He has also served as city manager for the city of Lampasas, as a County Commissioner in Mills County, and as a member of the Lower Colorado Regional Water Planning Group.

Henry also will work toward campaign finance reform for the Railroad Commission.
"It is pretty hard to properly regulate the oil and gas industry when you are taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from their political action committees and executives," Henry said. "The Railroad Commission doesn't rule for the public anymore, they rule for the people lining their campaign war chests. I will work to get legislation passed to prohibit Railroad Commissioners from taking money from the industries the Commission is supposed to regulate," he said.

Henry faces Art Hall of San Antonio and Mark Thompson of Hamilton in the March 4 Democratic Primary. The winner of the March 4 Democratic Primary will face Commissioner Michael L. Williams in the general election.

Read more about Dale Henry on his website: ELECT DALE HENRY

Sunday, December 16, 2007

I will kill you for water.

When the well is dry we learn the worth of water.

~Benjamin Franklin

Learning the worth of water

The Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's fourth international assessment released earlier this year predicted that "drought-affected areas will likely increase"

In our quest to beat the hydrocarbon energy dead horse we are abusing our environment and depleting the natural resource that we cannot live without, water. Each year approximately 3,066,000,000,000 gallons of water is permanently removed from our hydrologic cycle through oil and gas operators causing a deficit in our available water budget.

Brace yourselves and read the rest on Bluedaze.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Estes to Recommend RRC Investigation. No Time to Rest!

I've been calling Estes' office to prompt him and it looks like we may get that investigation! On October 18, 2007, Tracy made a speech at the Town Hall Meeting hosted by Senator Craig Estes and listed many egregious examples where the RRC has failed to protect Texans. She requested an investigation.

I followed up with several posts on this blog and others requesting that you join us by emailing the Natural Resources Committee members. Well, it looks like your action is working. THANK YOU! But please continue applying pressure. Here is the letter I received: (click to enlarge)

Even if Estes requests an investigation, the other committee members will have to agree. Please apply pressure. Email these people and demand an investigation of Texas Railroad Commission malpractice.

Senate Committee on Natural Resources
Kip Averitt - Chair
Craig Estes - Vice Chair
Kim Brimmer - Member
Bob Duell - Member
Robert Duncan - Member
Kevin Eltiff - Member
Glen Hegar - Member
Juan "Chuy" Hinijosa - Member
Mike Jackson - Member
Kel Seliger - Memeber
Carlos Uresti - Member

Injection well news round up

Just Across the Wise County Line:

I've been tracking a Montague County class II commercial injection well used for Barnett Shale drilling waste for several years now and started photographing the facility in October 2007.

Here are the pictures taken by me on 10-05-07, just after this facility was inspected by the Texas Railroad Commission on 9-27-07, and found "safe and clean." Dark spots from chemical spills are clearly visible on the ground. The site is poorly maintained and alarmingly out of compliance.

On 11-21-07, I checked to see if there were any improvements. You can see that the only improvements are a painted fence and new sign. Brandon Evans of the Wise County Messenger wrote an excellent article about the well in which he explained that the same chemical spillage found on the site had washed into the nearby creek bed killing all the surrounding vegetation. (The creek feeds into Denton Creek which flows into Lake Grapevine which is a municipal water source.)

After taking more pictures, tracing down the owner to discover that his license has been revoked on 3 other businesses and making a formal complaint, the RRC conducted another inspection. They noted a number of violations including NORM that was not labeled, and said that the operator would be fined, face legal action and the well would be shut in until it meets regulation.

Imagine our surprise when the Messenger reporter, photographer and I found the facility still operating the next day. The operator can continue polluting the environment for the next 10 days.

A Permitted Class II Commercial Injection Well in Wise County
Stopped by Activists.

This is a first! LINK to decision. This is a groundbreaking case that will help others in similar fights. Read more about it here.

Railroad Commission overruled by 3rd Texas Court of Appeals

By Faith Chatham - DFWRCC - Dec. 7, 2007

Senator Estes and the Texas Railroad Commission are under fire for lax regulation and oversight. After confrontrations at a Town Hall Meeting with citizens who were dissatisfied with the oversight of the Natural Resource Committee in protecting water from contamination injection wells in Wise County, Senator Craig Estes wrote: I am concerned by reports that the Railroad Commission may have been too lax in its oversight of the oil and gas industry, and enforcement of the rules and regulations. It is my intention to share these concerns brought by my constituents to the Chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee with my recommendations that these concerns be throughly reviewed by this committee."
See TxSharon's diary on Texas Kaos.

Lax regulation by the Texas Railroad Commission has dominated the news in the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex for weeks. Investigative WFAA Reporter Brett Shipps has hammered away at the failure of the Railroad Commission to force removal of dangerous compression couplings by Atmos Energy. The death of a couple in Wylie, Texas when their home exploded despite numerous reports by neighbors to the gas company of gas leaks has spurred public outcry against decisions by the Railroad Commission which allowed TXU and later ATMOS Energy to keep over a hundred thousand compression couplings in the ground and at gas meters in North Texas for years after other states (such as Missouri) demanded their removal. Recently the Railroad Commission has announced that they are requiring that compression couplings be replaced, however, despite their claim that it had nothing to do with the series of reports by Brett Shipps, most North Texans credit public pressure and the news coverage for the decision rather than due diligence on the part of the Railroad Commission.

While under scrunity by persistent bloggers like TXSharon and investigative television reporters such as Brett Shipps, the Railroad Commission also has taken a few "lumps" in court.

Wise County activists (Texas Citizens for a Safe Future and Clean Water) appealed the ruling of the Railroad Commission in permitting Pioneer Exploration, Ltd> to operate a commercial injection well to dispose of oil and gas waste. The Texas Third District Court of Appeals in Travis County overruled the Railroad Commission and found that:

The court found that:
the Commission did interpret "the public interest" too narrowly and therefore failed to adequately consider additional factors that may affect the public interest. We remand this case to the Commission for a reconsideration of the permit under a broader interpretation of "the public interest."

Part of the case:
Before issuing an injection well permit, the Commission must make a finding "that the use or installation of the injection well is in the public interest." Tex. Water Code Ann. § 27.051(b)(1) (West Supp. 2006). In its second issue, Texas Citizens argues that the Commission took too narrow a view of "the public interest" by focusing only on the increased recovery of oil and gas and disregarding the public interest concerns presented by Texas Citizens.
At the May hearing, Texas Citizens offered testimony and evidence that they alleged related to the public interest. Texas Citizens' primary concern was a public-safety issue regarding the fact that trucks hauling saltwater waste would frequently be accessing the well site using narrow, unpaved roads. Wefelmeyer testified that the proposed disposal well could operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with 20 to 50 hauling trucks--each carrying up to 100 barrels of saltwater waste--accessing the site each day. Texas Citizens took the position that because the dirt roads contained blind curves and were often used by children and pedestrians, the presence of a large number of trucks hauling between 2,000 and 5,000 barrels of saltwater waste a day would create a public-safety issue.

The court did not uphold Pioneer's and the Railroad Commissions argument:
Pioneer and the Commission argue that the factor considered in granting Pioneer's application--the increased capacity for oil and gas production in Texas--is an appropriate factor for making a public interest finding and that, while the hearing examiners did in fact hear and consider evidence on Texas Citizens' traffic-related concerns, these types of issues were not within the Commission's jurisdiction and could not be considered.

Instead the court stated:
There is no controlling precedent interpreting what considerations the Commission may weigh when determining whether a proposed injection well is in the public interest under Texas Water Code § 27.051(b)(1). Administrative agencies have wide discretion in determining what factors to consider when deciding whether the public interest is served. See Public Util. Comm'n of Texas v. Texas Tel. Assoc., 163 S.W.3d 204, 213 (Tex. App.--Austin 2005, no pet.). "An agency abuses its discretion in reaching a decision if it omits from its consideration factors that the legislature intended the agency to consider, includes in its consideration irrelevant factors, or reaches a completely unreasonable result after weighing only relevant factors." Hinkley v. Texas State Bd. of Med. Examiners, 140 S.W.3d 737, 743 (Tex. App.--Austin 2004, pet. denied).

The court went back to the orignial intention of the Legislature and ruled that the Railroad Commission has:
abused its "discretion" by not weighing safety factors which the Legislature intended to be weighed and/or by "reaching unreasonable results after weighing reasonable factors!"

The Court ruled against The Railroad Commissioners ruling. In the permitting process the Railroad Commission stated:
is in the public interest to safely produce hydrocarbon reserves in order to meet market demand. . . . The production of hydrocarbons for use by the people of Texas and industry serves the public interest. Production from the Barnett Shale is obtained by fracing with large volumes of water and the frac water must then be recovered and disposed of. The safe and proper disposal of produced saltwater in disposal wells such as the one proposed by Pioneer meets this need and thereby serves the public interest. . . It is in the public's interest to encourage the safe drilling and completion of more wells for the production of oil and gas.

The court found that:
While relying solely on the increased production of oil and gas to indicate that Pioneer's well would be in the public interest, the hearing examiners declined to consider Texas Citizens' public-safety concerns, determining that traffic issues do not come within the Commission's jurisdiction.

The Court cited the The PFD in which the Railroad Commission explicitly stated:
The Commission does not have jurisdiction to regulate truck traffic on the state's roads and highways. The examiners sympathize with the Protestants' concerns about property values and other quality of life issues, but conclude that Pioneer has met its burden of proof on the statutory issues the Commission is required to consider, including the public interest issue.
The Court examined presecent and Legislative Intent in regard to public roadways and public safety hazards in location of injection wells. It overruled the finding of the Railroad Commission that public roadway hazards were not to be considered.

The Court ruled that

Because the Commission believed it could only review the effect on oil and gas production in making a public interest determination on Pioneer's permit, we hold that the Commission abused its discretion in failing to consider other factors in determining whether the permit would be in "the public interest" under Texas Water Code § 27.051(b)(1). While the legislature did not specify which factors should be considered, the scope of "the public interest" must be broader than the effect on oil and gas production. Such a narrow interpretation of "the public interest" could potentially allow the Commission to rubber stamp injection well permit applications despite legitimate public safety concerns, which the legislature, in passing § 27.051(b) and requiring that the effect on the public interest be considered, clearly did not intend.

The Court finding states:
the Commission continues to argue in its post-submission brief, as it did at oral argument and in its initial brief, that traffic-related concerns are not within the jurisdiction of the Commission and therefore should not be considered in public interest determinations. (6) The Commission's position taken on appeal and the statements made by the hearing examiners in the PFD provide sufficient evidence that Texas Citizens' traffic concerns were not considered as part of the public interest analysis.

Furthermore, the Commission argues that it cannot consider the effect of increased truck traffic on rural roads because regulating road-safety issues is solely within the jurisdiction of other governmental agencies. However, practically all matters of public safety are regulated by some governmental agency. If the Commission is foreclosed from considering any matter that falls within the jurisdiction of another governmental agency when making public interest determinations, then the Commission's realm of inquiry is essentially limited to reviewing a proposed injection well's effect on oil and gas production. Such a limited scope of review cannot have been the legislature's intent in giving the Commission the broad mandate found in Texas Water Code § 27.051(b) to consider "the public interest." The Commission does not need the authority to regulate road safety issues in order to determine whether the development of an injection well will create traffic-related problems of such magnitude that the harm to the public outweighs the benefit of increased oil and gas production. The Commission is not being asked to regulate road safety, but merely to consider potential threats to public safety before issuing an injection-well permit.

The Railroad Commission argued that they do not have authority to regulate public safety issues. However, the Court found that by requiring that security be at the site 24-7 and there be a locked fence and gate for public safety, they do in fact regulate public safety.

In addition to the power to deny applications that are not in the public interest, the Commission may also resolve public-safety issues by regulating the activities of the injection well itself. The Commission's final order places a number of "special conditions" and "standard conditions" on the proposed injection well. Standard condition number 12(e) states, "Prior to beginning operation, the facility shall have security to prevent unauthorized access. Access shall be secured by a 24-hour attendant, a fence and locked gate when unattended, or a key-controlled access system." This condition placed on Pioneer's permit requiring the maintenance of sufficient security to prevent unauthorized access suggests that the Commission has exercised authority to regulate the operations of the injection well in order to ensure public safety. Similarly, the Commission may be able to conserve natural resources, while also addressing any relevant public-safety concerns, by taking steps such as regulating the number of trucks accessing the well, limiting the hours of operation, or requiring the use of alternative access routes to the well. When reconsidering the public interest finding on remand, the Commission might also consider whether any possible conditions may be applied to the injection well to alleviate relevant public-safety concerns.

The court found that the Railroad Commission abused its discretion by limiting its public interest determination.

While administrative agencies have wide discretion in determining what factors to consider when deciding whether the public interest is served, we hold that the Commission abused its discretion by limiting its public interest determination to the conservation of natural resources. We remand to the Commission to reconsider its public interest determination, using a broader definition of "the public interest," which includes public-safety concerns where evidence of such concerns has been presented.

The Court overturned the ruling of the Railroad Commission:

because the Commission relied on an improperly narrow definition of "the public interest" in granting Pioneer's application, we reverse the district court's judgment affirming the Commission's final order and remand to the Commission for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

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Cosmic CSI

shows at the UTA Planetarium 3-D Digital Dome.

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