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Water--Aquifer Protection:
aquifer protection permits; natural gas

Our Position: oppose
Bill Number: HB2352
Sponsor: Mason
Legislative Session: 2009 Legislative Session

HB2352 aquifer protection permits; natural gas (Mason) exempts Class I and Class II injection wells for natural gas storage from getting aquifer protection permits.  The list of exemptions for the aquifer protection permit program is far too long already – it has grown over the years as special interest after special interest has sought to relieve themselves from the protective requirements of the program.  This exemption is bigger and has much more significance than those previous exemptions, however.  It will allow millions of gallons of briny water to be pumped into a deep aquifer thus writing off that aquifer for drinking water in the future.

Status

To read the bill and a more detailed status, please click on HB2352.

Action Needed

 To email your state senator or to find his/her direct phone number, click on senators.  If you are not sure who your senator is, please go to http://www.vote-smart.org or call the Senate information desk.  If you're outside the Phoenix area, you can call your legislators’ offices toll free at 1-800-352-8404.  In the Phoenix area call (602) 926-3559 (Senate) and ask them to connect you with your senator.

More information

Check out this Arizona Daily Star article on some of the issues Natural gas threatens water, critics say

To read the bill or see a more detailed status, click on HB2352

Contact

Sandy Bahr at (602) 253-8633 or sandy.bahr@sierraclub.org

Background

Arizona’s Aquifer Protection Permit (APP) program was a landmark program when passed in 1986 as part of the Environmental Quality Act.  Rather than focus on remediation – trying to clean up a mess after the fact – and enforcement, it focuses on prevention.  The program is aimed at keeping pollutants out of our precious aquifers.  This is both more environmentally responsible and cheaper in the long run.  It is especially important as it is often the public (the taxpayers) that has to pick up the tab for clean up.  Arizona also decided at that time that all of its aquifers are important and should be designated as drinking water aquifers – that is to protect their quality for the future.  See 49-224 (B).

Over the years, certain individual companies and industries have whittled away at the APP program as you can see from the 24 exemptions that exist and the general permit provisions.  Nonetheless, it is still a good program and one about which Arizona can be very proud. Never before have we just written off an aquifer.  This bill does that, but does so in a less than forthright manner.

If Arizona does want to change the designation of an aquifer, there is a process for doing so.  It is a very public process, involves studying the aquifer, and it allows for public comments and requires a public hearing.  To do so, the director of the Department of Environmental Quality must find the following (49-224 (C))

1. The identified aquifer or part of an aquifer is or will be so hydrologically isolated from other aquifers or other parts of the same aquifer that there is no reasonable probability that poorer quality water from the identified aquifer or part of an aquifer will cause or contribute to a violation of aquifer water quality standards in other aquifers or parts of the same aquifer.

2. Water from the identified aquifer or part of an aquifer is not being used as drinking water.

3. The short-term and long-term benefits to the public that would result from the degradation of the quality of the water in the identified aquifer or part of an aquifer below standards established pursuant to section 49-223, subsections A and B would significantly outweigh the short-term and long-term costs to the public of such degradation. Benefits and costs to be considered include economic, social and environmental.

 

HB2352 will write off those aquifers without the proper findings mentioned above and without the public notice and input.  That is just plain wrong.  Arizona’s water and future are too important to write off so cavalierly.

 

There are also concerns about the first part of the process.  How much water will they use to pump into the salt caverns?  Where will it come from?  Will the caverns collapse?

 

In November of 2008, New Mexico placed a six-month moratorium on new brine wells in geologically sensitive areas.  They did this because of the collapse of a second brine well in less than four months.  The brine wells in New Mexico are primarily associated with oil and gas production, but the process is similar.

 

“Oil and gas operators use brine water in the drilling process. Brine is saturated salt water which can be more salty than sea water. Brine is created by injecting fresh water into salt formations, allowing the water to absorb the salt and then pumping it out of the well. This method creates an underground cavity.” (from news release from New Mexico Minerals, Energy and Natural Resource Department, dated November 14, 2008)

 

The agency wants to know why these wells collapsed.  Perhaps Arizona should find out as well. 

The company, Multifuels out of Houston, Texas, that is seeking this new exemption in our law is doing so in order to secure its financing.  Is it worth risking Arizona’s aquifers and future drinking water supplies to allow them to get financing for this project?  Just because other methods of storage and disposal of the brine are more costly, does that mean they should not be considered?

There are three critical requirements for an entity to get an Individual APP in Arizona.  They include:

·         The applicant must use the best available demonstrated control technology (BADCT) for the proposed facility.

·         The applicant must demonstrate that aquifer water quality standards will not be violated in the aquifer at a point of compliance as a result of discharge from the facility.

·         The applicant must demonstrate financial and technical capability.

Which of these is a problem for those seeking this exemption?  Do you really want to grant exemptions to facilities that refuse to use the best available demonstrated control technology?  Or do you think it is okay to give an exemption to a facility that will violate aquifer water quality standards?  Aren’t our aquifers more important than that?  Isn’t the protection of our aquifers more important than the short-term financial interests of one company?  And finally, should a facility that cannot demonstrate financial and technical capability get an exemption?

The company has indicated that the Environmental Protection Agency program for Class I wells is as protective as Arizona’s aquifer protection permit program.  In reviewing the information on the EPA website as well as the legal requirements relative to an individual APP, that is not the case.  There are very specific requirements under the APP requirement, including for public notice, financial capability, water quality at point of compliance, etc. 

This bill will effectively write off aquifers in these areas for drinking water – and it does not just affect Pinal County.  There are other areas of the state that can be considered for these types of wells including locations in northern Arizona.

 

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