Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, May 15, 2017

Contact:  Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (801) 300-2414, tmckinnon@biologicaldiversity.org

Feds Work to Plug Leaking Gas Wells After Claiming No Risk, Records Show

Leaks Raise Questions as New Drilling Planned Under Choke Canyon Reservoir

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas— Federal officials scrambled to plug leaking gas wells under a primary Corpus Christi water supply hours after they publicly declared the wells posed no risk, according to new records obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity.

Federal Bureau of Reclamation officials, who in April dismissed risks from two leaking gas wells beneath the Choke Canyon Reservoir, are now exploring how to repair and plug those wells, according to records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request to the Bureau of Reclamation. The action comes as the federal government plans a June lease sale to allow more oil and gas development in the area.

“If the water supply is safe, as they claim, then why are they rushing to re-plug the wells?” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. “In the midst of this threat to public health and safety, the last thing they should be doing is expanding drilling and fracking underneath the reservoir.”

The records, including emails between Texas Railroad Commission and Bureau of Reclamation officials, show that officials aren’t sure who’s responsible for re-plugging leaking wells and are skeptical that original well owners can be identified. State and federal officials also were exploring underwater inspection of the leaking wells, and it’s unclear if such inspections had ever been conducted.

Choke Canyon Reservoir is one of three major water supplies for the Corpus Christi Water Department. The department supplies water to Corpus Christi, 17 other cities and more than 440,000 residential customers.

“Wells have been leaking into Corpus Christi’s water supply for at least five years,” McKinnon said. “Clearly drilling regulations and enforcement have been lax. This does not bode well for expanded oil and gas development under new federal leases in the area.”

While federal and state agencies work to re-plug the wells, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is moving forward with a June 8 lease auction of federal public lands in and around Choke Canyon Reservoir and Lake Somerville, near Brenham, to allow more fracking. Conservation groups and the city of Corpus Christi filed formal protests in February challenging the plan, raising concerns about spills, water contamination and earthquakes that could jeopardize dam integrity and harm downstream water users.

In April the Brenham City Council unanimously approved a resolution opposing the BLM’s plans to allow fracking beneath Lake Somerville. The resolution cited concerns that loss or contamination of the lake’s water supply would be “catastrophic” for its residents. Lake Somerville is the city’s sole drinking-water source.

Download the records here.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.3 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

www.biologicaldiversity.org

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