The Nebraska Attorney General’s office on Tuesday announced it will not appeal a court decision rejecting a Colorado company’s plan to inject salty groundwater and fracking wastewater deep beneath Sioux County.
Late last month, Cheyenne County District Judge Derek Weimer ruled that the Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission overstepped the authority given to it by state lawmakers when it approved turning an old oil well north of Mitchell into a disposal well.
Weimer agreed with neighboring landowners who argued the commission is authorized to regulate only wastewater from oil and gas produced within the state. The well application said the site would have the potential to process 80 trucks, or about 10,000 barrels of water, a day, much of it from Colorado and Wyoming. That would have made it the largest disposal well in Nebraska.
Terex Energy Corp., which also goes by the name T-Rex Oil, applied in November 2014 to open the well. The Bloomfield, Colorado-based company may still appeal the judge's decision.
Attorney General Doug Peterson's office said in a news release Tuesday that while it respectfully disagrees with the decision, it will not appeal.
“The Attorney General’s office maintains that the Nebraska Oil and Gas Commission acted properly and within its authority when it approved the application for a wastewater disposal well. However, the Attorney General’s office believes that recent legislation by the Nebraska Legislature has addressed the concerns expressed in the District Court’s decision,” the release said.
Nebraska legislators this year passed a bill (LB1082) that increases oversight of the transportation and disposal of wastewater, allows additional public notification and hearings for injection well applications.
The legislation, which went into effect July 21, also amended state law to remove the phrases "in Nebraska" and "in the state," referring to the commission's oversight authority, words that the judge relied on in his ruling, said Attorney General spokeswoman Suzanne Gage.
State statutes now say their purpose is to "permit the development of Nebraska's oil and gas resources up to the maximum efficient rate of production while promoting the health, safety and environment of the residents of Nebraska."
The waste liquid, often called produced water, that would have been disposed of in the T-Rex well is a byproduct of the oil and gas production process, including the practice known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking. Fracking includes injecting water and sand, sometimes with additional chemicals, underground to create enough pressure to fracture rock and free oil and gas. It also often releases pockets of salty water trapped underground naturally.
The wastewater is separated from the oil and either reused or piped back underground for disposal. The process has been used in Nebraska and other states for decades.