Texas Miracle in the Permian, Frac Greed causing $Billions in damages: Satellite data reveal impacts to surface (11 inches subsidence since 2015 where frac’ers take out water and oil; 5 inches lift where wastewater injected); earthquakes greater than 2.5M jumped from 42 in 2017 to 671 in 2022; pressure increases; erupting wastewater not staying injected destroying farm land; contaminated groundwater … The greedy frac sods have no answers or fixes. “You punch enough holes in it, the whole country’s going to fall apart”

2024: Justin Nobel’s Petroleum 238, on oil, gas ‘n frac industry’s radioactive waste secret now available: “More Radioactivity Than at Chernobyl.” Jesse Lombardi: “In every single oilfield you will find these oilfield waste treatment centers churning radioactive waste around like pancake mix”

2006: Stupid to the Last Drop by Canadian Journalist William Marsden (includes Rosebud!)

In America’s Biggest Oil Field, the Ground Is Swelling and Buckling, Satellite data reveal the impact of oil and gas drilling on the Permian Basin’s landscape; earthquakes, pressure increases have local communities worried by Benoît Morenne and Andrew Mollica, Wall Street Journal, April 28, 2024, MSN

In a desolate stretch of desert spanning West Texas and New Mexico, drillers are pumping more crude than Kuwait.

The oil production is so frenzied that huge swaths of land are literally sinking and heaving.

The land has subsided by as much as 11 inches since 2015 in a prime portion of the Permian Basin, as drillers extract huge amounts of oil and water, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of satellite data. In other areas where drillers dispose of wastewater in underground wells, the land has lifted by as much as 5 inches over the same period.

The constant extraction and injection of liquids has wrought complex geologic changes, which are raising concerns among local communities long supportive of oil and gas.Happening in Canadian frac fields tooEarthquakes linked to water disposal have rattled residents and prompted state regulators to step in. Some researchers worry that wastewater might end up contaminating scarce drinking-water supplies.Reportedly, that’s already happened

“They’re affecting the geology of the ground, the surface,” Ty Edwards, a Pecos County, Texas, resident who helps manage groundwater in the region, said of oil producers. “That is pretty wild.”Geologists told me in around 2004, that the same is and will happen in Canadian frac fields. Standard harms that industry well knows will happen, nicely silenced and covered-up by regulators.

The tumultuous landscape is a direct result of industrial-scale drilling in the Delaware portion of the Permian Basin. Oil production has reached nearly three million barrels of oil a day there, cementing the U.S.’s status as an energy power and fueling the region’s economic engine.but, will leave it in severe bankruptcy when the frac’ers run from clean-up after their profit-raping is done, as they do everywhere, with blessings from the corrupt and bought politicos and regulators.

Alongside crude, oil-and-gas companies are extracting gargantuan amounts of subterranean water—in the Delaware, between five and six barrels of water are produced, on average, for every barrel of oil. To dispose of it, they inject billions of barrels of putrid wastewater into underground disposal wells.

Some scientists say the ground displacement, shown in data provided by Earth observation company SkyGeo, could impact infrastructure such as roads. But what frackers and researchers are most concerned about are the forces pushing the ground up.

Environmental groups say Texas regulators’ oversight of the industry is falling short and that it is time for the federal government to intervene.Pffft. Roaring laughter. The feds in USA and Canada are more corrupt when it comes to oil and gas, than our provincial/state gov’ts are. Feds won’t do a frac thing. Their wee willies are tightly roped by the rich

Oil executives, meanwhile, say the issue of water disposal is having an impact on their bottom line, driving up the costs for new wells. They also fear that, if left unmanaged, it could dent local support for their activities.Fucking life and earth destroying bastards. Ought to be run out of town, everywhere, but humans are too greedy and eager to buy the lies that they will get rich when the frac’ers arrive.

“Produced water management is probably one of the, if not the biggest, challenge in the Permian,” said Cody Comiskey, an earth-science adviser at Chevron.

This is the Permian Basin of West Texas and New Mexico.

The Delaware Basin, a subregion of the Permian, today produces more oil than the country of Kuwait.

In the Delaware, the extraction of huge volumes of oil and produced water has caused the ground to subside. Meanwhile, disposal of wastewater underground has caused it to expand, forcing the ground upward as pressure increases.

In less than two years, from May 2015 to January 2017, the ground deformed by more than 2 inches in some places.

From 2017 to 2020, oil production in the Delaware more than tripled.

At this point the land had subsided by more than 5 inches in some places, and expanded by over 2 inches in others.

In a typical area, the ground usually shifts less than a tenth of an inch per year.

When oil production hit a record high in 2023, the land had subsided by more than 11 inches in some places compared to 2015. It had expanded by over 5 inches in some areas.

Texas experiences more of the expansion because New Mexico has restrictions on water disposal. Companies shuttle more than 2 million barrels of water per day across the state line into Texas.

Oil and gas activities have long reshaped the landscape of energy-rich locales. In the last century, crude production caused the ground in and around California’s Port of Long Beach to sink as much as 29 feet, causing billions in today’s dollars in damages and repairs to public and private property. More recently, the Netherlands began shutting Europe’s biggest natural-gas field after earthquakes tied to gas extraction led to a public outcry.

When the shale boom breathed new air into the Delaware about 10 years ago, the basin produced under 500,000 barrels of oil a day, according to analytics firm Enverus. Today, companies there churn out roughly a quarter of all U.S. crude production.

As a result, the volume of briny, polluted water that companies have to handle has skyrocketed. In 2013, companies discarded about 382 million barrels of water, according to water analytics firm B3 Insight. Last year, they injected about 3.4 billion barrels of water down disposal wells. That is about as much water as New York City consumes in roughly five months.

Frackers inject most of this water down wells that reach about a mile under the surface, which is convenient and relatively cheap. Drilling clusters of injection wells means companies don’t have to build expensive pipelines to link disposal sites together. But concentrated volumes of water increase pressure underground, which then makes it more difficult for companies to drill down through those levels to shale rocks.

Companies are having to make significant adjustments because of the pressure changes. Occidental Petroleum, for instance, is building more robust wells to account for increased pressure, said Jeff Simmons, the company’s chief petrotechnical officer. One way Occidental is making wells sturdier is by adding strings of casing to reinforce the wells’ structure.

Company executives didn’t specify what the cost of re-engineering was. When Pioneer Natural Resources, another producer, in 2017 reported encountering pressure changes in the Midland portion of the Permian, it said it was spending about an additional $300,000 to $400,000 per well.I expect likely nowhere near enough to dispose of the radioactive toxic waste responsibly.

Mounting pressure also limits how much water companies can dispose of and forces them to use more energy to push fluids through, executives said.

Companies have also been injecting a smaller portion of the unwanted water well below crude reservoirs, at deeper depths of around 3 miles. Deep injection wells are much more expensive than shallow ones, but they allow frackers to dump more water and do so in a way that doesn’t affect subsequent drilling.

But there is a catch: The water can cause deep-rooted faults to slip, creating earthquakes.

The number of earthquakes in the Permian with magnitudes greater than 2.5 jumped from 42 in 2017 to 671 in 2022, according to B3 Insight. In late 2022, a 5.4-magnitude earthquake in Reeves County, Texas, sent tremors felt as far as Dallas, El Paso and San Antonio, where it damaged a historical building.

Texas regulators have imposed restrictions on injection volumes in the region, and the number of magnitude-3.5 earthquakes and higher has come down. Local communities are gearing up for more shakes. In Pecos City, a city of about 13,000 in West Texas, around 145 municipal employees will receive earthquake-preparedness training, said City Manager Charles Lino.

“That is the necessity we have to live with,” he said.

Drillers said they are allocating more cash and brain power to navigate pressure and seismicity issues. Chevron has formalized a team with a budget that conducts reservoir studies and looks at ways to reuse more wastewater, among other things, said Chevron’s Comiskey.

A growing concern for residents and scientists is that wastewater could migrate into the aging, unplugged wells that litter the Permian by the thousands and contaminate drinking-water supplies or shoot to the surface, where the fluids could damage ranchland.Already happening. See gory details below.

Advocacy groups have asked the federal government to review how the state is regulating water injection in the region. The Environmental Protection Agency has said it would review the groups’ petition.

With shrinking options to discard wastewater, crude producers have to get creative. Some are looking for lower-risk formations to inject water into and ways to treat water so it can be reused for agriculture. Whether these efforts will pass regulatory muster or how much they will cost remains unclear.

“There’s just no silver bullet,” Comiskey said.

Write to Benoît Morenne at email hidden; JavaScript is required email hidden; JavaScript is required and Andrew Mollica at email hidden; JavaScript is required email hidden; JavaScript is required

A Dirty Water War in the Texas Desert by Justin Mikulka, Mar 28, 2024, Powering the Planet

History is likely to show that the idea of permanently polluting huge amounts of water and then trying to bury that water deep underground under high pressure likely was a really bad idea.

A Dirty Water War in the Texas Desert
A dry water tank no longer used for cattle due to benzene contamination of groundwater.

Last week after my visit to the Permian region of Texas I wrote, “The only thing that surprised me was the amount of waste water pits. The only standing water in this part of the Texas desert is toxic oil field wastewater.”

Image: Lake Boehmer Credit: Ramon Holguin

Lake Boehmer is a young lake. It came into existence about 20 years ago when water just started bubbling up out of the desert. How does water just start bubbling up in the middle of a desert? Seems like the sort of thing that would have taken on mystical or religious significance in the past. The Texas Miracle! 

But there isn’t very much mystery here. Something is increasing the hydrostatic pressure under the Texas desert and it is causing water to bubble up or blast out of old oil, gas and water wells.

Image: Lake Boehmer Credit: Ramon Holguin

One theory on the cause of this increasing pressure underground is the practice of injecting large amounts of toxic water under high pressure into so-called injection wells. The forces created by this practice are causing earthquakes. And now we are learning more about how this practice is also resulting in the contamination of ground water as the pressures being added to the reservoirs under the Permian are causing oil to leak from old wells as well as more events like the one that caused Lake Boehmer. Sarah Stogner is the ranch manager at the ranch I visited that no longer has potable water due to the benzene contamination of the groundwater. This week she posted a video of another old leaking well with the following comment:

“Contaminated cement and corroded steel is all that is between our drinking water and hydrocarbons/produced water. Why aren’t we all talking about this? There are millions of “plugged” wells out there. How many are actually plugged to prevent the migration of wellbore fluids?” Sarah Stogner

Why aren’t we talking about this?

Today is the second day of the Oilfield Water Management Symposium in Texas. The industry continues to look for safe and cheap methods to dispose of its wastewater but unfortunately there are none. And that is bad news for the people who rely on water in the same areas where the oil industry operates. 

Injection Wells Plus Abandoned Wells Causing Big Problems

History is likely to show that the idea of permanently polluting huge amounts of water and then trying to bury that deep underground under high pressure likely was a really bad idea. In my 2018 article, I included the warnings of drilling engineer Andrew Hunter

“Andrew Hunter, a drilling engineer for Guidon Energy, recently explained how injection wells can damage the producing wells, saying the situation is “getting worse.”

He also added another point that may be of interest to investors.

“I think people are afraid to talk about this problem,” Hunter said during a Houston conference focused on water. “We’re trying to get the word out to let everyone know how serious this is.”

It doesn’t appear that the word got out. It seems the current game of “whack a well” where expensive responses to suddenly appearing geysers of toxic water is likely to get a lot busier in the future. In 2022 another abandoned in Texas well started spewing toxic water. 

“Beginning on New Year’s Eve or in the early hours of 2022, an estimated 25,000 barrels of briny water has emerged from the earth with a dull roar each day, turning the surrounding West Texas landscape white with salt and other minerals.”

Injection of wastewater is certainly a likely cause of the pressurization of the reservoir under the Permian desert that causes these desert geysers. However, the practice of “water flooding” older depleted oil reservoirs to produce more oil may also be a factor. This technique is when the industry pumps a lot of water into oil fields to try to increase the reservoir pressure to hopefully push more oil up and out of the wells (this is also now done with carbon dioxide). The oil industry is pumping huge amounts of pressurized water into the ground in Texas for multiple reasons. And that water is taking the path of least resistance to relieve that pressure — which can result in desert geysers. Visiting the Permian and seeing the results of this practice in person and hearing the stories is like watching a horror movie where you want to scream about the deadly danger that is coming while everyone else just goes about their daily lives and offers you free bottled water. 

Image: Advertisement in Midland, TX airport. Credit: Justin Mikulka

And yet, it isn’t really true that no one is talking about the issue. The Texas Tribune and Inside Climate News have done excellent reporting on this issue. And landowners are certainly worried about the future of water in the Permian after the oil is gone, as the Tribune reported the sentiment of one area landowner: 

“If they ruin the water out here, there won’t be anyone left. This will be a desert with no inhabitants,” he said from his dining room table. “It’s only a matter of time.”

I stayed in Midland, TX for two nights. The hotel gave out bottled water because you can’t drink the tap water in Midland.The frac patch loves it when they contaminate entire community water supplies and people are forced to drink water bottled in toxic plastic, and serve it to their pets and livestock too (more plastic which drives more frac’d gas to get ethane to make more plastic to provide water to the frac harmed… Fucking stupid idiots. As I wrote last week:

Why? The city water can be toxic. In January there was an arsenic warning for residents and according to the city utility director, “It states that for over the past year we went over the annual average for arsenic allowed.” Midland has a long history of having the oil industry poison its drinking water and as fracking booms, disposing of the toxic waste water is a major cost and challenge for the industry with no viable solutions other than to keep doing what they have been doing. Expect more poisoned water. 

I also wrote that the city of Midland, “recently agreed to let an oil company put multiple wastewater injection wells near its drinking water supply.”  For now, Midland can use the boom in oil money to buy as much bottled water as visitors need but the boom will end. And then who pays for clean water?

This month the organization Commission Shift filed a petition with the Environmental Protection Agency to revoke the Texas regulator’s ability to oversee wastewater injection well permitting due to the risks.

Oil Industry Doubling Down

In 2018, I wrote “Of course, without the injection wells, the fracking industry would have to slow down or stop oil and gas production — so injection wells will stay in use.” Exxon recently agreed to spend $60 billion to buy more of the Permian desert for oil and gas production.

I highly recommend reading Martha Pskowski’s article from last year about this issue. Prepare to be horrified about how the state is moving forward with allowing oil companies to just dump the toxic water in “rivers.” 

As Pskowski wrote, Emily Lindley, the head of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, spoke at an industry conference last March and encouraged oil and gas companies to apply for discharge permits. “I just want to encourage you to come get a permit from us,” Lindley said. “If you think you want to discharge your water to the state, we’re ready to take those permits. Let’s do it.”

Those would be permits to discharge toxic water into local waterways or what approximates a waterway in West Texas. While driving through Texas I saw a sign for the Pecos River. I was intrigued about seeing a river after some time in the desert. I didn’t get a photo because I didn’t see any river until we had passed it. In that part of Texas the Pecos River is just a dry gulch with a trickle of water. You can see photos of it in Martha’s article. 

That is one of the places they would like to dump their toxic water. Water that is a cocktail of pretty much everything you should avoid.

Naturally occurring radioactive material is also known as NORM. Justin Nobel has reported on this issue and I expect it is another “crisis waiting to get discovered after the profits are gone.”

Texas is the heart of the U.S. oil industry. The fracking revolution that created the boom in the Permian is a mature technology. They’ve been doing this a long time. And now the best solution they have for dealing with their toxic waste is to simply dump it in the river. 

“I know it’s not a good thing coming”

As Texas regulators invite oil companies to apply for permits to dump their toxic waste into the dry riverbeds of the Permian, who will pay for the inevitable damage? Or is the plan to just abandon the sacrifice zone known as the Permian once the money has been extracted? The Permian is producing a lot of oil. And, for now, some big profits for the likes of Exxon. And yet, more people are admitting that the Permian is likely peaking for oil production. The industry is now facing the possibility of penalties for its methane pollution. Lawyers are mentioning that the industry could be held liable for groundwater contamination. And then there are all of those abandoned wells and future toxic geysers. Industry’s not worried, the bought and controlled politicos have put plenty of dirty judges on the courts to make sure the rich walk with all their rapings, leaving ordinary frac’d and contaminated families, well, frac’d and contaminated, and making the citizenry pay to try to clean up (which will be mostly impossible in the permian given the industry’s bad practices and relentless greed and arrogance And that doesn’t count the climate and fraud lawsuits. 

While it may not be making headlines, it’s clear more people can see what is coming, as reported by The Texas Tribune. 

“You punch enough holes in it, the whole country’s going to fall apart,” said Greg Perrin, general manager of the Reeves County Groundwater Conservation District. “I know it’s not a good thing coming.”

Who picks up the tab when the whole country falls apart from all the holes punched in it by the oil and gas industry?

The Texas Tribune reported how one of the recent toxic water gushing wells cost $2.5 million to remediate. For one well. 

And then there are the climate issues to deal with. Between droughts, storms, floods, extreme heat and wildfires, Texas is in the crosshairs of that change. If “things falling apart” is now the expectation for the future, perhaps we should stop punching those holes before it’s too late? 

We need an honest accounting of the true costs of the oil and gas industry. And we need to see what the oil and gas industry is really worth. A 2023 Carbon Tracker analysis shows that the remaining value of the California oil industry is less than the cost to clean up the mess. We are approaching that point for the entire U.S. oil industry. If we want the money to clean up this mess, which they are legally obligated to give us, we need to get it sooner than later. However, one reason the oil industry appears not to care about the damage they cause in Texas is that they have a history of walking away from the damage once the money is gone from the oil wells. 

In the Texas Tribune article they quote a local rancher who is selling his ranch’s groundwater to the oil and gas industry and seems to have decided it’s not “if they ruin” the water but “when.”

He clearly understands how things have always worked and has taken the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” approach by adopting the oil industry’s business model: extract and sell what resources you can for profits and then when there are no more profits, leave town with your money and leave the mess for someone else to clean up.yup, and it’s people like him, and the endless synergized landowners in frac fields in Canada, the synergizing NGOs (they make lots of money trying to synergize the harmed, to get us to say we are not opposed, so gross, horrific betrayals to not only community and life for others species and humans.

Purely by coincidence I was gifted this shirt this week. Perhaps there will be future versions with “It came from the Pecos.” The Cuyahoga River is famous for catching on fire due to the amount of oil and assorted toxins in the river.

“Nobody really knows what you’re supposed to do”: Leaking, exploding abandoned wells wreak havoc in West Texas, The Texas Railroad Commission is tasked with plugging wells. But the state regulators say their scope is limited by Carlos Nogueras Ramos, The Texas Tribune, and Martha Pskowski, Inside Climate News, Feb. 29, 2024

Bill Wight looks at the well that was leaking high volumes of salt water on his land Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024, in Crane County.
Bill Wight looks at the well that leaked enormous volumes of saltwater on his property. It took crews over a month to seal the well and stop the leak. Credit: Sarah M. Vasquez for The Texas Tribune

IMPERIAL — Mounds of dirt towered over Bill Wight, who stared helplessly at the piles that had once been pasture for his cattle.

After a few moments, he turned his head and surveyed a vast pool of water that had spilled over his land after an abandoned well exploded in early December. The water that sprang from the forgotten hole drilled searching for oil or water contained so much salt that it scrubbed the life off the land. It decimated the soil.

A rancher who spent a decade tending to the sprawls of this West Texas ranch, Wight was suddenly a stranger in his own land.

“Nobody really knows what you’re supposed to do about something like this,” Wight said in January.

The massive pool of salt water on Wight’s ranch is the latest man-made disaster resulting from abandoned oil and water wells across the state.cumulatively with human greed and massive high volume high pressure frac’s and waste water injection!

The incident here offers a reminder of the ambitious work that Texas faces mapping and securing thousands of wells left behind by oil and gas companies over a century of drilling across the state.

It also highlights an uneven approach to environmental cleanup by the state’s Railroad Commission, critics say. The commission is tasked with regulating the state’s oil and gas sector. It has millions of dollars to plug orphan wells.

Inline article image

Complicating the effort are thousands of undocumented wells, like the one that erupted on Wight’s land. With no record of its existence, it’s difficult to determine who is responsible for securing the well.

Despite there being no record of the well that erupted on Wight’s ranch, the commission paid $2.5 million to plug it and clean up the spill to “ensure safety,” a spokesperson said. The spokesperson said the commission is seeking to identify the person or company responsible for drilling it.

Left untreated, these wells threaten the region’s groundwater supply and vegetation used to feed cattle.and in turn feed humans!

Texas has plugged wells for decades, but the urgency has increased in recent years as orphaned wells in the Permian Basin began to leak salt water and, in some cases, hazardous liquids.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, passed by the U.S. Congress in 2021, included a $4.7 billion nationwide injection to plug orphan wells on public and private lands. Texas received $25 million in 2022 and an additional $80 million in January. The commission operates a separate state plugging program for which it requested $63 million for 2024 and 2025. In fiscal year 2023, Texas plugged 1,754 wells with state funds and 730 wells with federal funds.

Meanwhile, scientists and regulators are scrambling to determine the cause of the leaks, geysers and blowouts.

“If you can identify the problem earlier, it will be cost-saving,” said Zhong Lu, a geophysicist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Railroad Commission touts swift response

Wight reported the blow-out to the commission on Dec. 7. Inspectors arrived later that day.

The first inspection report indicated that water covered an area of 300 square feet and was a foot deep in some places.

The next day, inspectors reported roughly 14,000 gallons were flowing out of the ground every hour, according to reports obtained by Inside Climate News and The Texas Tribune.

The average American family of four consumes 12,000 gallons of water a month, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

For the next month, commission staff visited daily and recorded the mounting costs of containing the water. Trucks began to haul it away. Water vacuumed up at the site was then transported to saltwater disposal facilities and injected back into the ground at a different site.where it too, will spew out soon, contaminating more groundwater and land

Inspection reports during January indicated there was ongoing difficulty in plugging the well. But at the commission’s Jan. 30 meeting, a staff member made an unusual public presentation about their effort at Wight’s property and said the agency had the well plugged.for now….until a frac job somewhere fucks up the plug

A pit built to collect the leaking water is seen Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024 on Bill Wight’s land in Crane County. Crews contracted by the Railroad Commission of Texas would then further haul the collected water offsite.
The Railroad Commission of Texas built similar pits in the surrounding area to collect the leaking water and haul it offsite. Credit: Sarah M. Vasquez for The Texas Tribune

Wight is content with the plugging job, particularly because he didn’t have to pay for it, but worries about more water seeping out in other parts of the ranch and region.

“I’m more concerned about the rest of the area,” he said.

Saltwater flooding clusters in the Permian Basin

The commission has not always been so quick to act on abandoned wells, frustrating groundwater officials and landowners.

Ty Edwards, general manager of the Middle Pecos Groundwater Conservation District, which serves the residents of Pecos County, said the response to the blowout on Wight’s land proves that the commission can plug wells it previously ignored. The groundwater district has documented leaking abandoned wells and taken legal action against the Railroad Commission to compel the agency to plug more wells in the district.

However, the commission has said it does not have jurisdiction over some of these wells because there is no record they ever produced oil. U

nder state law, landowners are responsible for plugging costs of water wells.So, in oil patch rape pillage and frac’d Ontario, authorities are turning leaking energy wells into water wells, to guess what … make the home owner responsible to fix the leak, which often can cost minimum, a million dollars.

In 2023, lawmakers set aside $40 million to help groundwater districts afford well-plugging projects. State Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Junction, sponsored the bill. The grant money is available to districts whose populations are no bigger than 16,000 and are next to “at least seven counties with populations of less than 15,000.” Eligible districts must demonstrate that the well is leaking, posing a hazard to the drinking water and surrounding wildlife. The well’s casing must be deficient. Districts must prove the water is flowing to the surface, and has a connection to surface water, including a waterway, intermittent stream, or springs system.

Edwards said that in order to plug a well, the commission expects him to “prove beyond the shadow of a doubt” that it produced oil or gas.

“But they’ll go plug a well with no documents at all in Crane County,” he said. “I don’t understand how they can do that.”

The commission said it relies on a prioritization system to determine what wells to plug first.

Despite public protest, the commission said that because Lake Boehmer was formed by a water well, it was not the agency’s responsibility.

Whether the wells were drilled for oil or water, they can threaten groundwater resources.

Bill Wight on his property in Crane County
Bill Wight on his ranch in Crane County. Wight purchased the property over a decade ago, hoping to leave a legacy for his family to inherit. Credit: Sarah M. Vasquez for The Texas Tribune

The San Antonio Testing Laboratory tested samples of the water spewing on Wight’s ranch on behalf of the commission, finding it contained 0.05 milligrams per liter of benzene, a widely known carcinogen. That’s 10 times the EPA’s maximum allowable level for drinking water. Benzene is a chemical found mostly in crude oil and gasoline.

Traces of benzene in Wight’s spill were the only chemical suggesting that the well could have been drilled for oil and gas, the commission said in a statement.

The commission said it has not tested the groundwater at Wight’s ranch for contamination.they operate nearly as badly as Alberta regulators

“If they actually check it with any basic analysis, we’re going to find some issues,” Edwards said.

Between 1993 and 2008, orphaned wells contaminated Texas’ groundwater 30 times, according to a 2011 report by the Ground Water Protection Council. A 2017 study in the Eagle Ford shale in South Texas found that leaking wells could create a pathway for groundwater contamination if the right conditions exist.

In a 2023 paper, scientists said leaking wells in the Permian Basin were a growing threat to water sources and human health.

“We’re able to prevent [groundwater contamination],” said David Alleman, of the Department of Energy’s Office of Resource Sustainability. “And if it’s happening now, we’re able to stop that by plugging these wells.”


Trying to avert the next flood

The blowout on Wight’s land shows that if wells remain unattended, they can pose serious environmental risks. Finding and plugging them is a monumental task.

Undocumented wells are a byproduct of lax record keeping in the earliest days of the oil and gas industry, according to a federal report that documented 117,000 known orphaned wells.

The Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission estimated in a 2021 report that there are between 310,000 and 800,000 undocumented orphaned wells nationwide. The Department of Energy is funding research on undocumented orphaned wells.

Hari Viswanathan, an Earth and Environmental Sciences fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratory, said they are locating orphaned wells using drones, methane sensors, magnetometers, and other tools.

“There is a lot of cutting-edge science,” he said. “What we have found is there’s no silver bullet.”

Cause of blowouts perplexes experts

Finding wells is only part of the puzzle. Researchers and local groundwater experts are piecing together what is causing wells that were abandoned decades ago to blow out or leak now.

Soil tinged white from high levels of salt caused by the leaking well is seen Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024, on Bill Wight’s land in Crane County.
The high levels of salt water left a white tint on the soil on Bill Wight’s property. Credit: Sarah M. Vasquez for The Texas Tribune

Zhong Lu has studied sinkholes, earthquakes and subsidence — the gradual sinking of the ground — in the Permian Basin. Layers of limestone and salt formations make the surface vulnerable to the intensive drilling from the oil and gas industry, according to Lu’s research.

He and several colleagues used satellite data to measure how the ground moves in the Permian Basin. Then, they use drilling and injection records to determine what underground forces contribute to the movement on the surface.

In January 2022, a well break less than one mile west of the blowout on Wight’s land created a towering geyser. Chevron eventually plugged the well, which its predecessor Gulf Oil may have drilled decades earlier. The exact origin of the well, much like on Wight’s land, was unclear.

Lu is conducting ongoing research on that blowout along with SMU’s Jinwoo Kim and Vamshi Karanam. Lu said their preliminary findings indicate the blowouts are likely related to saltwater injection wells used to dispose of water left over from fracking.

They wrote in a memo that water is possibly moving from injection wells through an underground channel toward the site of the 2022 blowout. Lu — who has not studied the event on Wight’s ranch — recommended more widespread monitoring of surface level changes in the Permian Basin.

Edwards, of the groundwater district, doesn’t see an end in sight. “You’re going to find this is going to happen again within a few months,” he said. “We’re going to have another well blowout. I hate to say that.”

It’s been roughly three months since tens of thousands of gallons of salt water furiously flooded Wight’s property. On a recent February day, he strolled past strewn steel pipes left over from the clean-up. The water had mostly dried out. The soil shimmered a white hue under the sun, resembling the white sands of New Mexico — scenes of the aftermath.

Around him, piles of dirt.

Wight was relieved to see the water gone and the trucking activity dying down as he returned to the quiet life of ranching. There will be pumpjacks, trucks and disposal tanks on his land the way they have for as long as he’s been in the ranch. The oil fields would always be a part of West Texas.

But he won’t have to deal with them. Not directly, at least, and he doesn’t intend to. He isn’t an activist or a politician. The thought of being any of the two repel him. He’s just a rancher, he said.

Bill Wight walks on the portion of land that was ravaged by rupturing salt water Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024, in Crane County. Crews contracted by the Railroad Commission of Texas took over a month to plug the well causing the leak.
Bill Wight walks on his property, ravaged by rupturing salt water from an abandoned well. Credit: Sarah M. Vasquez for The Texas Tribune

Sometimes, the 76-year-old wonders whether there would even be a ranch to leave behind for his family. He’s concerned about the rest of the area, knowing water is still underground trying to find its way out, feeling powerless against its force.

For now, he just worries about the soil.Soil contaminated with salt is not fixable.

“I’ll just have to wait years for the grass to grow back,” he said. “I may not live that long.”

Disclosure: Southern Methodist University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Refer also to:

2024 04 30: From Macroplastics to Microplastics: Worldwide Environmental, Wildlife, and Human Contamination. Real Solutions Urgently Needed

2024: Expect financial fallout when the fossil fuel bubble finally bursts

2024: Art Berman: Beginning of the End for the Permian (and Bakken and Eagle Ford …)

2023: Texas Crane Co: 2022 blowout causing new ground fracture leaking toxic oil industry water “almost certainly flowing into the Permian’s three underlying fresh water aquifers.” Nothing can fix it (like nothing can fix Encana’s illegal frac’s of Rosebud’s drinking water aquifers). Criminalize frac’ing!


The companies and regulators throughout North America know, and have known for decades but don’t give a shit about anything but money and more money. Stupidest and most harmful ugly species on earth.

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