Wake-Up Call: Texas faces water contamination threat from injection well mismanagementPress Release

March 8th, 2024

LAREDO, TX – The Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC), the state’s oil and gas agency, is failing to responsibly oversee its injection well program, risking impact to millions of acre-feet of Texas drinking water.

In a formal petition to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Commission Shift and Clean Water Action argue that the RRC’s failure to comply with the 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) is grounds to revoke the agency’s oversight of its Class II injection well program. The petition highlights examples of the RRC’s technical failures, which have led to catastrophic leaks and the introduction of various contaminants into nearby water sources.

“The Railroad Commission’s oversight of unplugged wells and Class II injection has been so atrocious that I have experienced ongoing leaks of saltwater and oil all across and under my land, contaminating my soil and water. The agency’s response to my complaints has been defensive rather than helpful. Our state government should be more responsive to the public’s needs,” said Ashley Williams Watt, owner of Antina Cattle Company in Ward and Crane Counties. Examples of leaking wells on Antina Ranch are described in the petition.

There are approximately 180,000 Class II injection wells across the United States, with the largest proportion of those found in Texas. Class II wells largely consist of enhanced recovery wells and disposal wells for oil and gas wastewater.

Falling short of providing meaningful public participation and notice

Repeatedly, impacted and concerned Texans find virtually no recourse from the state’s oil and gas agency when confronted with problems from poorly-managed Class II wells. The RRC has exhibited a systemic failure to consider root causes of well leaks and blowouts or to include the public in well permitting decisions, which disproportionately impacts low-income and linguistically-isolated communities, and is a textbook example of environmental injustice.

“Now, more than ever before, Texas’ underground sources of drinking water are at risk of widespread contamination at the same time our state is facing more extreme droughts and worsening water scarcity. The EPA must intervene to defend the communities and ecosystems of Texas before even more irreversible harm is done.” said Paige Powell, Policy Manager at Commission Shift.

Implications for Class VI Carbon Waste Injection Wells

The failures of the Class II program have significant implications for CO2 injection in Texas. Carbon waste injection, a method of greenhouse gas mitigation, involves injecting highly pressurized CO2 into saline aquifers and caverns. The practice carries similar risks as enhanced recovery and wastewater injection, including groundwater contamination. The Railroad Commission of Texas, the state’s oil and gas agency, is currently seeking primary oversight (“primacy”) from the EPA over Class VI CO2 injection wells. The mismanagement of the Class II program is evidence that the RRC should not have more authority over new dangerous injection well sites.

Commission Shift and Clean Water Action recommend that the RRC:

  • properly manage unplugged and abandoned wells in the state and do more to hold operators financially responsible.
  • manage the Aquifer Exemption Program to adequately protect current and future sources of drinking water.
  • account for foreseeable risks in the Area of Review Process.
  • develop a comprehensive plan to address risks associated with utilizing Class II wells for long-term CO2 storage.
  • provide sufficient language accommodations and meaningful opportunities for public participation in permitting decisions and enforcement actions.

The petitioners requested that EPA respond to the letter within 60 days. The RRC should take swift action to address these critical gaps within the agency to ensure the protection of both current and future sources of drinking water for all residents of the state.

Read the full letter here.

Commission Shift, based in Laredo, Texas, is a non-profit organization focused on reforming oil and gas oversight in the State of Texas by building support to hold the Railroad Commission of Texas accountable to its mission in a shifting energy landscape. Commission Shift educates and organizes a wide array of stakeholders to build support for changes at the Railroad Commission of Texas that improve the agency’s function, transparency, and accountability to people and places impacted by the oil and gas industry.

Clean Water Action is a national 501(c)(4) organization headquartered in Washington DC. Founded in 1972, Clean Water Action works at the national level and in a dozen state offices on environmental and health issues. Reducing water pollution and protecting drinking water sources are among the organization’s priorities. Clean Water Action has a track record of research and engagement around threats to drinking water from oil and gas activities, and around SDWA and Clean Water Act programs – including the SDWA UIC Program – intended to address those risks. Clean Water Action’s Texas work is headquartered in Houston and Austin.


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