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Editorial, 4/20: Delay on wastewater disposal
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Editorial, 4/20: Delay on wastewater disposal

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The Nebraska Oil and Gas Commission should delay action on a controversial proposed disposal site for fracking wastewater in Sioux County.

The most important justification for the delay would be to allow time for the Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee to study whether Nebraska has proper oversight in place for disposal of the salty water that is a byproduct of fracking operations.

Another reason for delay is that a special independent investigator is currently looking into whether the commission violated the state’s open meetings law when it conducted a public hearing last month.

Attorney General Doug Peterson appointed Lincoln attorney William Austin to investigate allegations from the Nebraska Sierra club and Bold Nebraska that the commission did not comply with the law.

The hearing was conducted under odd circumstances. First the commission said that no one other than people living with a half-mile radius of the old oil well that is the proposed disposal site would be allowed to testify. Then it decided to hold a separate meeting where people could testify.

The commission, however, said those comments would not be part of the record. About 50 people testified at the hearing. Only three supported the proposal from Terex Energy Corp to dispose of fracking water from operations in Colorado and Wyoming by injecting it about a mile below the surface.

According to plans filed with the commission, the operation might mean as many as 80 trucks a day hauling 10,000 barrels a day to the site.

Nebraska’s regulatory system has not been updated for decades, and it certainly was not crafted to handle all the wastewater that is being created in the current fracking boom.

In Kansas, for example, new maximum daily limits were placed on disposal of fracking wastewater because of concerns it was causing earthquakes on previously unknown fault lines. Since September south-central Kansas has registered an average of 17 quakes a month of a magnitude of 2.0 or higher.

Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm pointed out that Colorado’s regulations on disposal of fracking wastewater run to 300 to 400 pages. Nebraska has only about 50 pages. Colorado requires a $1 million bond to cover accidents. Nebraska requires only a $10,000. That’s “less than the insurance on your car,” Haar pointed out.

Sen. John Stinner has introduced a resolution (LR154) calling for research into the authority of the Oil and Gas Commission and “what can be done to protect the environment, the surface and underground water supply, and public safety.”

When it comes to protecting Nebraska’s groundwater, it’s wise to be careful. The commission has called a special meeting for Wednesday to take action. It should postpone its decision.

As Haar put it, “In Nebraska, water is life. Water is Nebraska gold. We want a gold standard for anything that affects Nebraska water.”

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