By Jeff Shultz
The Garvin County Commissioners unanimously approved a measure Monday to explore litigation against oil companies that operate saltwater injection wells in the county to post a bond to pay for any potential damages the wells might cause to area fresh water wells.
The move could be the first of it’s kind in Oklahoma and could pave the way for other counties in the state to make a similar move to protect water wells.
“My main concern is to protect the water wells many of our land owners currently have,” stated District 3 County Commissioner Johnny Mann.
Mann brought up the potential lawsuit in light of an effort by Tulsa based CAVU Resources to construct a Saltwater Disposal Site in Garvin County, east of Pauls Valley.
CAVU’s efforts to build the injection well has been temporarily frozen due to a deluge of protests to the Corporation Commission by several landowners living near the proposed disposal site as well a large number of county residents.
Assistant District Attorney Carolyn Dillingham suggested the lawsuit route during Monday’s regular commissioner meeting.
Dillingham said there currently are not any state statutes giving counties the authority to require a bond from injection well companies.
“You do not have the power to adopt a resolution to require such a bond,” she advised the board of commissioners. “Your best route is to take all of these type of companies to court to get a judgment against them, requiring them to post such a bond in the event their operations do cause damage to the wells.”
Mann cited a decades old case where Marathon Oil out of Houston conducted a water flood in the 1960s and 70s.
Water flooding is a method of secondary recovery in which salt water is injected into the reservoir formation to displace residual oil. The water from injection wells physically sweeps the displaced oil to adjacent production wells.
In the Marathon Oil case, salt water from the water flood destroyed several fresh water wells owned by landowners near the disposal site.
“I don’t want what happened then (the wells destroyed) to happen again,” Mann said.
Marathon Oil was eventually sued over the incident and was forced to pay millions in damages as well as truck in fresh water to some of the damaged properties until they could be connected to a rural water district line.
“The county has to protect our fresh water and our citizens from such potential disasters,” Mann added.
Mann said the bond would not be a problem to many of the companies that would be affected by the possibly suit.
“Many of these oil companies have the money to put up a million dollar bond or more. If they are bondable, then there won’t be a problem for them,” he said.
When asked how much of a bond the oil companies would have to post, Dillingham said the monetary amount could be based on a variety of factors.
“We would need to show the District Court how much such damages could be between X and Y, with X being the lowest amount and Y the highest. Based on those numbers, an average bond amount could be derived from that range and ordered by the court,” she said.
Dillingham said as far as she knows, no other county has attempted such a move in an effort to protect local water sources.
“This could be a historic suit by Garvin County and set the precedent for other counties to follow,” she added.