Court rules against group fighting injection well

By Brian Knox | Published Thursday, March 17, 2011

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It appears a group of Greenwood residents have lost their six-year battle to keep a commercial injection well out of their neighborhood.

On Friday, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Texas Railroad Commission, essentially paving the way for Pioneer Exploration to build a saltwater injection well near the intersection of County Roads 2625 and 2735.

The case of the Railroad Commission vs. Texas Citizens for a Safe Future and Clean Water and James G. Popp centered around the Railroad Commission’s interpretation of “in the public interest” when considering the application of an injection well. The citizen group argued that the commission had not considered the traffic dangers that the increased tank truck traffic on county roads would pose to the area.

The supreme court ruled that the commission, in this context, does not have to consider traffic safety factors in its decision. The action reversed a 2007 appeals court decision that had ruled in favor of the citizen group.

Popp, whose home is located next door to the injection well site and is chairman of the citizen group, said he was surprised by the ruling.

“It’s good for oil and gas – that’s what the public interest is,” he said.

In the opinion published by Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson, the court points out that the Railroad Commission is charged with permitting injection wells for the disposal of oil and gas waste and must consider what is “in the public interest.”

“The [Railroad] Commission is directed to consider a number of other factors, all of which has to do with the protection of natural resources and the regulation of the oil and gas industry,” Jefferson wrote.

Popp said he plans to speak with the group’s attorneys this week to consider what to do next.

“It seems like it is out of our hands,” Popp said. “The supreme court has ruled, and we’re law-abiding citizens.”

He said it was likely the group would seek a rehearing before the Texas Supreme Court, but he acknowledged that those are rarely granted.

Pioneer filed an application for a permit to build a commercial saltwater injection well in the spring of 2005. The citizen group was formed to protest the application.

After the Railroad Commission approved Pioneer’s permit in February of 2006, the group filed a lawsuit, claiming Pioneer had made errors in the original application, was given extra time by the Railroad Commission to correct those errors and had not considered the traffic dangers as part of the public interest.

In December of 2006, 126th District Judge Gisela Triana affirmed the Railroad Commission’s decision to issue the injection well permit. In 2007, an appeals court reversed Triana’s decision, and the Railroad Commission appealed that ruling to the Texas Supreme Court.

Popp said that since the case has been in court, no work has been done at the well site.

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