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Pipeline firm denied water well permit

June 11th, 2015 under Top Stories

By SASHA von OLDERSHAUSEN

ALPINE – In the ongoing battle between the Trans Pecos Pipeline and those who oppose it, the opposition gained a small victory on Tuesday morning when the Brewster County Groundwater Conservation District denied a commercial well permit that would allow Pumpco Inc. to operate a well on its property.

The groundwater conservation district gathered for its regularly scheduled meeting, during which it held a public operating permit hearing pertaining to an application submitted by JAR Capital Investments – the firm that umbrellas Pumpco, better known as the construction company tasked with building the Trans Pecos Pipeline.

According to the permit application, which was submitted on May 21, the well would withdraw 17.3 gallons per minute – about 24,912 gallons per day and 8.9 million gallons per year. Under “proposed use of the well,” the permit applicant stated, “Dust control and water for offices.”

The well in question was the very same well that drew controversy when members of the groundwater conservation district turned up at the 23-acre Pumpco site in west Alpine weeks ago, upon learning that the company might be operating the well illegally and without a viable permit. Since the well was previously designated a residential well, the groundwater conservation district maintained that Pumpco would need to obtain a commercial permit to use the well.

However, the attempt to question representatives of Pumpco about the well culminated in the arrest of groundwater conservation district board member Tom Beard, for allegedly trespassing private property. Beard was also charged with assault of a public officer after he allegedly “stomped” on the foot of a Brewster County deputy sheriff, who tried to arrest Beard, according to an affidavit acquired with a Texas Open Records request.

At the hearing, members of the public were invited to comment on the permit proposal. Several area residents – many of whom are vocal opponents of the proposed pipeline – remarked on concerns associated with granting Pumpco’s use of the well, but the discussion ultimately turned into bigger issues of water consumption by the pipeline company.

Val Beard remarked, “The Sunny Glen area has been a point of contention in regard to water issues for many years, way back into the early 70s. You may recall that when Doug Lively was city manager there were some problems with the operation of wells in the Sunny Glen area that led to a number of problems because of over-pumping at those wells. We got into a pumping war.” Beard is the former Brewster County judge and spouse of Tom Beard.

She added, “I would like all the directors to please remember that pumping war in Sunny Glen was a large part of why you’re here. You’re not going to be dealing with new issues, you’re dealing with longstanding issues and now you have the tools and the framework to address what might become a contentious situation.”

Coyne Gibson spoke as a representative of the Big Bend Conservation Alliance. Gibson, who previously worked as an engineer in the oil and gas industry, distributed a handout of aggregated statistics related to water consumption of pipeline construction projects comparable to the size of the Trans Pecos Pipeline.

According to Gibson’s projected model, a project of the magnitude of the Trans Pecos Pipeline could utilize anywhere between 500 million gallons of water to 1.5 billion gallons of water.

“We haven’t seen any precise information from the Trans Pecos Pipeline on anything related to water use,” Gibson said. “The main thing I would request is that you look at that model and you ask questions of the pipeline company relative to how much water they’re going to use for this project and where it’s going to come from.”

Gibson added, “That is a significant amount of water coming out of these aquifers in a short period of time.”

Sara Kennedy-Mele and Brandt Buchanan called to question the proposed use of the water, as stated by JAR Capital Investments – for “dust control.”

“If you put the water out on the dirt, it evaporates into the atmosphere. Essentially that water will be lost out of our region completely. The ground’s not covered with any organic mass. It’s going to disappear,” Buchanan said. “As the term waste is defined, I certainly think these permits are going to waste water.”

He added, “I think it’s our responsibility to our community and our future generations to do our best to conserve that water as much as possible despite the alleged benefits – economic or otherwise. You can’t eat money.”

Following the public comments, the groundwater conservation board adjourned into a brief executive session, after which the board conferred on the issue at hand.

Board director Virgil Clark prefaced their discussion with a public comment indicating that the board could only deny a permit application that did not comply with the rules stated by the groundwater conservation district.

“We have in our rules a production limit,” board member Mike Davidson said. “I think this permit application doesn’t conform with our rules that we have on the books. In terms of the way the permit reads right now, we can’t grant it.”

He added, “We can’t really make a judgment about the pipeline construction. Oil and gas development is ingrained in our state laws and this is not the time or place to fight that as a rule. But this application by my judgment is not compatible by our district rules.”

The particular rule that Davidson alluded to was one that stated a commercial “non-exempt” well could not use more than 163,000 gallons of water per acre per year of production. According to the permit application submitted by JAR Capital Investments, the well would utilize nearly double that amount.

Clark said, “I agree with Mike that we would have to turn this current permit down unless they follow the rules, come back and ask for an exemption or a reclassification.”

He added, “They would have to do hydrological studies and provide proof that it won’t cause adverse aquifer conditions.”

Davidson motioned not to accept the permit application. The motion was seconded by Ike Roberts. Tom Beard abstained from the vote, and the motion was adopted to deny the permit application.

A representative from JAL Capital Investments, who was present at the meeting, declined to comment or give his name. The Big Bend Sentinel / The International ascertained that his name was James Dixon.

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