An oilfield waste injection well has been operating for 18 years with minimal oversight in a suburban neighborhood in Laurel, Mississippi. Since 1996 this disposal well has allowed salt water, produced during drilling operations, combined with oil and drilling fluids to be injected into the earth 4020 feet down a “dry hole” oil well from 1992 that was drilled to 11,500 feet and partially plugged with cement. Injecting waste down it has proved to be a harmful mistake by state regulators and the operating companies.
Tay and Deidra Baucum own an adjacent wooded piece of land downhill from the well site on Wansley Road on the northeast edge of Laurel. It would have made a good place for houses. However, they have discovered that seepage from the disposal well site has migrated underground and onto their land. Salt water and other fluids have moved downslope from unlined waste pits at the well site and maybe from the injection well itself. This has added toxins and high levels of salt to their soil, killing trees along the path of seepage. A creek runs farther down the slope, and is likely also receiving polluted groundwater and runoff. Buried waste drums have also been discovered on the Baucum property in the woods next to the injection well.
Extension Service foresters from Mississippi State University told the Baucums that their trees are dying from exposure to brackish water, which should not exist in these soils in Jones County. This July, the Baucums sued Petro Harvestor Oil and Gas Co. LLC and a group of past owners of the injection well for negligence and the economic damage that the surface and subsurface oilfield waste is causing to their property. The suit was filed in Jones County Circuit Court.
This problem in Laurel raises the larger question for the state of Mississippi: since there is an expansion of drilling and fracking here, what really happens to the oilfield waste? If our state’s Oil and Gas Board has been permitting this toxic situation to unfold in Laurel and hasn’t seen fit to notice the violations or stop them, what is it doing in rural Wilkinson, Amite and Pike Counties where the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale is being drilled for oil and gas? Fracking and horizontal drilling there are producing growing quantities of salt water and drilling fluids needing disposal. One of the companies named in the Baucum lawsuit, Comstock Oil and Gas L.P. (Comstock Resources) is leasing 51,000 acres in Southwest Mississippi and Louisiana in the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale drilling area. Will it and other companies operating there be held to any better standards of operation than at the Wansley Road injection well in Laurel?