Tag Archive for: Texas Railroad Commission

Oil Field South of Forest Cove Little League Fields Producing Again

The Texas Railroad Commission (TRRC) had been making good progress on cleaning up the abandoned oil field between the Forest Cove Little League fields and the San Jacinto West Fork. However, it recently stepped back from the job when the mineral owners signed an agreement with a new operator to acquire several orphan wells.

Harvey’s Toxic Legacy

Floods from Hurricane Harvey destroyed the field and then the operator at the time, Noxxe Oil & Gas, went bankrupt. The company with a joke name (Exxon spelled backwards) turned out to be anything but a joke. It left behind a toxic legacy on the shores of Lake Houston, the source of drinking water for more than 2 million people.

New Activity Spotted at Site

A company called Southcoast Production, Inc. recently put a sign up at the entrance and began taking heavy equipment into the site.

From the air, I spotted what appears to be a workover rig pulling pipe at one of the old well sites.

The rig photographed yesterday was apparently pulling corroded pipe.
Photo from May 26, 2021 shows location of new work.

Huge Improvement, But Some Work Yet to Do

When the new operator took over the lease, the TRRC ceased its cleanup and plugging operations to let the new operator bring the site into compliance. The cleanup isn’t quite done yet. But whoever has been cleaning this site up, it looks and smells far better than it did last year.

“Before” photo from June of 2020.
Photo taken 11/1/2021 of same area but with wider lens.The blue/green storage tanks in the upper right are new.

Turning the Pumps Back On

Centerpoint recently brought electricity to the site so Southcoast could begin operating pumpjacks again.

It’s good to see someone taking responsibility for this oil field. In its post-Harvey condition, it was an environmental catastrophe.

Thanks to the TRRC and State Representative Dan Huberty for helping to accelerate the cleanup effort.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/2/2021

1526 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

Railroad Commission Completes First Part of Noxxe Cleanup in Forest Cove Already

The Texas Railroad Commission (TRRC) completed the first part of the Noxxie Oil & Gas post-Harvey cleanup on Tuesday, 1/19/21, just hours after the operation started. TRRC contractors began early in the morning near the Forest Cove Townhomes on Marina Drive. By 11 a.m., they had removed the heater treater; begun dismantling two storage tanks; and loaded up rusted pipe and twisted scaffolding. Before the end of the day, they had scarified the site and cleaned up after themselves. Scarification involves cutting and removing debris by breaking up the surface of the soil.

Before, During, After Pictures

Here’s what the Marina Drive area looked like before, during and after the cleanup there.

Noxxe Tanks by townhomes in Forest Cove
Noxxe Tanks by townhomes in Forest Cove before cleanup. June 27, 2020.
Noxxe Tanks by townhomes in Forest Cove
Removal of Noxxe Tanks by townhomes in Forest Cove on Tuesday morning. 1/19/2021
Removal of Noxxe Tanks by townhomes in Forest Cove
Removal of Noxxe Tanks by townhomes in Forest Cove. 1/19/2021.
Removal of Noxxe Tanks by townhomes in Forest Cove
Removal of pipes at same location. 1/19/2021.
Cleanup complete of Noxxe Tanks by townhomes in Forest Cove
Cleanup complete of Noxxe Tanks by townhomes in Forest Cove. 1/20/2021.

Plugging of Old Wells Scheduled in Two Weeks

Two pump jacks near the tanks remain. TRRC plans to remove those and plug the wells with a separate crew in a couple weeks, depending on the crew’s availability. That crew was responding to an emergency involving a potential blowout with some wells near Corpus Christi this week.

One of two remaining pump jacks near the Forest Cove Townhomes.

By Wednesday morning, operations had shifted to the far larger portion of the Noxxe field south and east of the Forest Cove little league fields. Dean Southward, a TRRC spokesperson and project manager, estimates cleanup of that area will take approximately two weeks.

The wells on the eastern portion of Noxxe’s lease will be plugged at the same time as the others near Marina Drive.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/22/2021

1242 Days since Hurricane Harvey

More Harvey Destruction Becomes Apparent

More than three years after Hurricane Harvey, the storm’s destruction seems to keep widening. A helicopter flight down the West Fork of the San Jacinto this week revealed a recently toppled tank; abandoned equipment; and leaking, abandoned wells, one less than five feet from the river.

Recently Toppled Tank

The toppled tank, likely a dehydrator or separator, ripped pipes out of the ground when it fell and crashed through a fence. See photos below.

Tank on right BEFORE it fell. Photo taken 6/27/2020. Tank was already leaning in the direction it fell. See photos below.
Photo of same tank (upper left) taken on Friday, 9/11/2020. Abandoned townhomes in foreground on Marina Drive, which curves in front of tanks.
Photo of same tank taken from ground level on 9/12/2020. Tank smashed through a fence when it fell.
Reverse angle shows base and ruptured lines. Note thickness of steel. This tank had to weigh thousands of pounds.

More Abandoned, Damaged Tanks

A hunt for more wells and tanks in the area revealed dozens that have been abandoned. Some have already toppled. Some are leaking. Most are rusting. Many have shifted off their foundations. And all are surrounded by abandoned equipment and weeds.

This tank was lifted and shifted off its foundation by Harvey.
Note how tank on top right floated from its original position in flood.
More tanks floated off their original positions by Harvey.

Abandoned, Leaking Wells

I also spotted 11 abandoned wells in the area east of Forest Cove Drive near the river, several of them leaking oil.

Abandoned wells by Marina Drive (right) and Aqua Vista Street (left) in Forest Cove near townhome complex destroyed by Harvey.

Property of the State

Noxxe Petroleum, the Company that owned most (if not all) of these wells and tanks, went bankrupt in February after lengthy legal battles with the State. Those battles started even before Harvey. As early as 2009, shortly after incorporation. Since the company’s bankruptcy, the State has seized the wells and equipment. And the company lost its charter in a tax forfeiture.

Notice posted on gate of Noxxe lease.

Railroad Commission lists Noxxe as the operator on dozens of other wells that are NOT visible from the air. Many have already been plugged. But many are also listed as still operating even though the lease has been abandoned. And some of those, like the tanks are leaking oil.

Source: Texas Railroad Commission. Noxxe is listed as operator on virtually all the “active” wells north of the river.

This Harvey destruction is going to be a huge cleanup job costing millions of taxpayer dollars. The Railroad Commission said, however, that it could not start work on the property until its budget recycled in the fall. Fall is about a month away. Take note.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/12/2020

1110 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Toxic Waste Next to Little League Fields Since Hurricane Harvey

Harvey inundated many old oil and gas properties in Humble and Kingwood, including many old stripper wells and storage tanks. Nowhere is the problem more apparent than in the abandoned well site next to the Forest Cove little league fields.

Proximity of Abandoned Site and Little League Fields

Harvey floodwaters toppled and rusted tanks which are now leaking onto the soil around them. The wells and equipment have been abandoned. All within range of a long fly ball.

Noxxe Oil & Gas, LLC used to list the abandoned property as its headquarters in Forest Cove until Harvey.
Photo taken from helicopter on 6/16/2020, 1022 days after Harvey.

A home run and you’re out! Ain’t no one going over that fence for the long ball.

Closer shot shows three wells, 16 tanks, a truck and a trailer on the site.
Sign at entrance to property indicates the Railroad Commission has seized the property and equipment. The TRCC will plug the wells and auction the equipment.
This will be a major cleanup.
It looks like one wellhead has been removed already. Tanks are ruptured and leaking. One tank has embedded itself in the ground.

Economics of Stripper Wells

As oil fields mature and well production declines, thinly capitalized operators often buy up old “stripper” wells. They hope they can still turn a profit because of their lower overhead compared to majors. But when a disaster like Harvey strikes, it exposes the flaw in that formula.


It won’t take a major flood to cause more problems on this site and surrounding properties. Even a minor flood could spread this foul mess around.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/16/2020

1022 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Cleanup of Forest Cove Oil Wells, Tanks Scheduled for Fall

Within the Forest Cove Townhome complex, currently being bought out by Harris County Flood Control, two wells, and three oil and gas storage tanks have been abandoned. The operator, Noxxe Oil and Gas, LLC went out of business in February this year for failure to pay franchise taxes. At least one of the wells has a history of a recent leak that affected the West Fork San Jacinto. The tanks sit rusting and leaning at odd angles. And the pipes connecting them are broken and twisted.

The Texas Railroad Commission has investigated the site numerous times since Harvey and required cleanup and remediation by the operator until the company went out of business. 

Because the operator is now defunct, the Railroad Commission plans to step in and complete the cleanup process once additional funds become available in the next fiscal year starting September 2020.

According to Harris County Flood Control, the Railroad Commission does not believe there is an imminent danger at this time from the existing tank battery and facilities.

However, the Commission says it will likely be an expensive cleanup. At public expense.

Old Oil Field, Old Equipment

These tanks and wells represent a common problem around Lake Houston and the old Humble Oil Field. The Humble field was discovered in 1905 and, to date, has yielded more than 150 million barrels of oil.

However, as fields and wells near the end of their producing life, the economics of production become marginal. Near the end, stripper wells may produce only 10-15 barrels per day – or less. Only operators on shoestring budgets can afford to keep such wells producing at that point. They become hand-me-down wells from operators with deep pockets and big costs to smaller companies with less capital and lower costs.

In theory, that’s how to maximize recovery from a well. However, when problems develop, the smaller companies are sometimes ill-equipped to handle them.

Noxxe Problems Started Early and Persisted

Shortly after incorporation in 2009, Noxxe ran into legal troubles when the company’s own lawyers sued it for non-payment. Noxxe lost the case. Then Noxxe appealed, but the company’s owner failed to appear for a deposition. Eventually, Noxxe’s appeal was denied because it failed to pay court costs.

Other Noxxe problems blew up into headlines after the Memorial Day flood in 2016 when oil slicks were photographed floating from its storage tanks. Another problem surfaced in 2017 when a pipeline from one of their wells on Marina Drive started leaking into the West Fork.

Texas Railroad Commission (TRRC) regulates oil and gas production. Its documents show that Noxxe ignored state regulators on more than one occasion.

The company’s problems with TRRC became visible on April 4, 2017. The Railroad Commission ordered certificates of compliance for the operator cancelled and all pipeline/carrier connections severed.

Then, during Harvey, Noxxe’s operations near the Forest Cove Townhomes and elsewhere on the West Fork became inundated. Again!

Noxxe tanks under water during Harvey in 2017 amidst the Forest Cove Townhomes.

One month after Harvey, Steve Shaffer, the company’s president, took over as his own registered agent.

Days after that, Noxxe moved from 324 Forest Cove Drive to 1120 NASA Parkway.

On October 16, 2018, the Railroad Commission found that Noxxe failed to appear or respond to charges which included:

  • Unpermitted discharges of oil and gas waste
  • Uncontrolled wells left open to the atmosphere
  • Spills from flow lines that impacted surface waters
  • Unreported discharges and spills
  • Fire hazards
  • Improper construction of a firewall around a tank battery
  • Failing to take protective measures re: open-top tanks, skimming pits and collecting pits

Finally, on February 28, 2020, the company forfeited its right to do business in Texas for failure to pay franchise taxes. (However, it still has until this June 28th to get its accounts in order and have its charter reinstated.)

Part of Noxxe’s Legacy in Forest Cove

These pictures below show part of the legacy Noxxe left behind.

Some of the equipment left behind by Noxxe in Forest Cove: tanks and pump-jacks.
This tank seems to lean at about a ten degree angle.
These lean even more.
The plumbing connecting the tanks is disconnected and in disarray.
Tanks are rusted, dented, overgrown and covered with graffiti.

The collapse of oil prices in response to COVID restrictions earlier this year hurt small producers more than large ones. It will be interesting to see how many other stories like this emerge in coming days.

Where to Report Similar Problems

While the abandoned equipment shown above may not represent an imminent threat, it still represents a threat that must be remediated by the state. It is adjacent to the drinking water supply for 2 million people and subject to frequent flooding. Jennifer Parks who used to live in one of the townhomes on Timberline Drive flooded eight times in five years.

If you see similar problems, reach out to the local office of the TRRC at 713-869-5001. 

Posted by Bob Rehak on June 6, 2020

1012 Days After Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.