By Mindy Ragan Wood
An administrative law judge will hear from citizens and businesses during a hearing to determine the fate of a proposed saltwater disposal well between Piedmont and Yukon.
The hearing will be held Nov. 28 at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission office in Oklahoma City.
The well would be drilled on the southeast corner of Banner Road and State Highway 3. Area residents are concerned the well could trigger earthquakes, water well contamination, heavy road damage and increase the number of accidents at the intersection.
Research has strongly suggested that disposal well water reaches fault lines and causes seismic activity. Mike Schmidt, a geologist for the company H2OK, said no one can guarantee the well will not cause earthquakes. H2OK is the company that will drill the well if approved.
A saltwater disposal well near Bridge Creek, Oklahoma was shut down Monday after a 3.4 magnitude earthquake rattled the area.
Piedmont City Councilman John Brown has expressed an interest in attending the hearing.
“There was an earthquake in Bridge Creek the other day and it (OCC) shut down a (disposal) well,” Brown said. “I’m interested in doing anything to protect the city against this.”
John Brown filed a protest, likely due to the risk a disposal well could have on older wells in the area, but company officials have not commented about its opposition to the well.
Local citizens have been at a loss on stopping the proposed well, but help could come from other municipalities and Canadian County.
Citizens near Tuttle partnered with city government and Grady County commissioners to oppose a disposal well outside city limits.
Tuttle City Manager Tim Young said the city council there implemented a law that has been on the books since the 1950s called “Extraterritorial Zoning.”
The law allows a city to enter into an agreement with the county to extend zoning laws within a number of miles into the county. Tuttle and Grady County agreed to include three miles of the county into the city’s zoning ordinances.
Although a 2015 law prohibits cities from imposing ordinances that are more restrictive than state law, municipalities can still enforce zoning restrictions on noise, light, traffic, and odor that often send an interested company elsewhere.
Young said Tuttle city officials joined forces with residents near the proposed well site to oppose it for several reasons. The administrative law judge denied the company’s permit after hearing the concerns raised by the residents and the city.
“Everyone in that area was on a water well,” Young said. “If something happened to their water, it would take two years at least to get them a water supply. They had a lack of good fire protection and there were concerns that the increased traffic on State Highway 4 would have caused more accidents. We argued they were locating too close to residential development.”
The area, Tuttle city officials argued, was also being cultivated for commercial and residential development, not for an industrial use.
Yukon City Manager Jim Crosby was willing to sit down with anyone on the subject of extraterritorial zoning.
“We’re more than willing because we’re concerned about it,” Crosby said. “We are in talks right now. Mitchell Hort, our development services director, and our attorney Gary Miller, with the oil and gas folks are talking about their concerns and our concerns. Everyone is concerned about earthquakes and it’s pretty well been proven that they (disposal wells) cause them, especially with the amount of water they put in them.”
Piedmont City Manager Jason Orr said he wasn’t sure the ordinances Piedmont has would be helpful to the residents near the proposed well site.
“We get complaints about the noise here,” he said of oil and gas wells in Piedmont. “We go out there and test the noise and find it’s within the ordinance. We are willing to look at the possibility of some kind of administrative authority. It might be possible but I’m not making any promises.”
Canadian County Commissioner Marc Hader said he welcomes a discussion with Piedmont and Yukon officials.
“I’m always open to conversation to find best practices or solutions to challenging problems,” Hader said. “If that (zoning) was used by the City of Tuttle effectively, I wouldn’t discourage Piedmont or Yukon from doing that.”
Hader pointed to a problem with imposing city zoning laws on county residents who moved into the county to be free from those restrictions.
“You have unincorporated areas and one of the positives is that there are little to no zoning building requirements and people choose to be part of that for the freedom to do what they want with their land,” Hader said.