Tag Archive for: TRRC

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.

Flood Notes: Quick Updates on Multiple Flood Related Topics

Below are updates on seven flood-related topics from around the Lake Houston Area and Texas.

Plugging of Noxxe Wells in Forest Cove Delayed

Peter Fisher of the Texas Railroad Commission reports that its Oil & Gas Division is about eight to 10 weeks away from plugging the NOXXE wells in Forest Cove. Noxxe abandoned the lease when Harvey cleanup costs forced the company into bankruptcy. The Commission’s General Counsel notified Fisher on March 4th that another operator is attempting to take over the NOXXE leases.  “At this time we do not know for sure which wells they are interested in.  Therefore, we are currently in a holding pattern on plugging the NOXXE wells,” said Fisher. TRRC has already finished cleanup of the rusting tanks in Forest Cove, but several wells still appear to be leaking based on aerial photos that show oil on ponds and in the public water supply.

Black substance in West Fork/Lake Houston stretched for about a half mile on December 7, 2020, next to one of many abandoned Noxxe wells.

Texas GLO and Houston Declare Truce for Time Being

Last year, the Texas General Land Office (GLO) tried to claw back funds allocated to the City of Houston for several Harvey-related disaster assistance programs. Why? The City fell seriously behind deadlines, even as the reimbursement program was expiring. Then the two sides reached a settlement and the City took back some programs. Houston will continue to administer $835 million in programs – Homeowner Assistance (reimbursement program), Single Family Development, Multifamily Rental, Small Rental, Homebuyer Assistance, Buyout, Public Services and Economic Revitalization Programs.

However, the GLO included strict program benchmarks with language that includes: “Program Benchmarks: Subrecipient’s failure to achieve a Program Benchmark in the Subrecipient Agreement may result in the termination of the Program and/or funds being removed from the Contract, at the GLO’s sole discretion.” HUD’s rules include that funds be expended – not allocated – by August 2024, plus one more year for close out, or else HUD will retain the funds.

City’s Homeowner Assistance Applications

In the meantime, the GLO is keeping the City’s Homeowner Assistance Program. Many who first applied through the City have been caught in limbo due to missing, incomplete and poorly formatted documents.

On December 30, 2020, the GLO received 48,000 documents that had no discernable naming conventions, were not grouped by applicant, and were mostly unsearchable. The GLO had to open each document to determine which applicant it belongs to and file accordingly. On January 27, 2021, the GLO received a transfer of additional files that appear to be mostly environmental assessments, but once again, were not organized. The GLO has sorted the files from the City of Houston and the GLO team is contacting applicants to request missing or outdated documentation to move them towards construction.

We received data for 7,176 files, but nearly half had none or only one of the documents needed for a complete application to achieve HUD eligibility. “We are in the process of contacting all applicants to determine which ones still wish to participate and request the documents we need to complete their files,” said a GLO spokesperson.

Court Reverses Air Quality Permit for APO

Texans for Responsible Aggregate Mining announced that on March 5, a district court in Austin struck down an air-quality permit for a quarry. Alabama-based Vulcan Construction Materials needed the permit to proceed with a controversial project.

Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) had initially granted the permit in 2019 after two years of heated legal wrangling between Vulcan, the nation’s largest producer of construction aggregates, and an alliance of Comal County citizens, community groups and Comal ISD.

459th Civil District Court Judge Maya Guerra Gamble ruled that:

  • TCEQ’s assertion that the quarry would not harm human health or welfare was not supported by evidence.
  • Vulcan’s emissions calculations were not representative and not supported by substantial evidence.
  • Vulcan’s air quality analysis did not account for cumulative impacts or emissions from the quarry and roads.
  • Vulcan’s choice of background concentration was arbitrary or capricious.
  • In the contested case hearing, the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) judge erred in allowing Vulcan to hide behind “trade secret” claims.
  • Plaintiffs were denied due process when the SOAH judge allowed Vulcan to conceal data using the “trade secret” excuse and did not allow plaintiffs to cross-examine Vulcan.

Vulcan’s proposed mining operation in the Texas Hill Country would stretch across nearly three miles of the environmentally sensitive Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone, the primary water supply for over two million people in New Braunfels and San Antonio.

Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District Punts on Subsidence Again

After several filibusters, the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District Board again deferred publicly adopting a position on subsidence or approving the second half of its subsidence study in a mercifully brief March 9th meeting. The District’s general manager and counsel are reportedly querying stakeholders on the subject. But time is running out before GMA-14 meeting. The LSGCD may have to call a special meeting before the next GMA-14 meeting on April 9th to resolve those issues. It will be interesting to see what they come back with. Simon Sequeira, of Quadvest, one of the largest independent water pumpers in the county is a stakeholder.

Kerr County Commissioners Support Best Management Practices for Local APOs

The adoption of best management practices by sand mines in the San Jacinto watershed has been a legislative goal of area groups since Harvey. It was during Harvey that floodwaters swept through mines and flushed sand downstream where it contributed to the flooding of thousands of homes and businesses. Now the Hill-Country group, Texans for Responsible Aggregate Management reports they have achieved a victory of sorts.

On March 1st, 2021 the Kerr County Commissioners’ Court unanimously passed a resolution supporting TRAM’s legislative goals, as well as a resolution encouraging Kerr County APOs to adopt Best Management Practices (BMPs) in order to minimize adverse health effects and nuisance issues. The resolution was sparked by concerns over West Texas Aggregate LLC’s desire for a permanent rock and concrete crusher facility near the airport east of Kerrville.

LCRA Adopts Commercial Dredging Moratorium on Highland Lakes

On February 24, 2021, The Lower Colorado River Authority Board of Directors adopted a one-year moratorium prohibiting commercial dredging on the Highland Lakes until new rules are established. This action states that LCRA will not review pending permit applications such as the Collier Materials Inc. permit application for commercial dredging on the Llano River and cancelled the public meeting scheduled for March 10, 2021.

The Board determined that new rules are necessary to address commercial dredging projects and their potential impact on water quality, aquatic life and public safety on the lakes. Over the next year, LCRA will review potential water quality impacts of commercial dredging, coordinate with other entities, and conduct a robust public and stakeholder input process.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/18/2021

1297 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.

Cleanup of Leaking Oil Tanks on Noxxe Lease by Forest Cove Little League Fields Complete

The Texas Railroad Commission has finished the cleanup of leaking oil storage tanks on the Noxxe Oil & Gas lease by the Forest Cove Little League fields. Several tanks remain, but they are empty and not leaking. According to a Railroad Commission spokesperson, another individual wants to take over the lease. That person intends to use the remaining tanks to help operate one or two wells that can still produce.

However, regarding a new producer, Gilbert Herrera, a spokesman for the Railroad Commission said, “I haven’t seen any P4 (transfer of wells) come through on the Noxxe wells in Harris County, so far.”

Before/After Pictures of Two Worst Areas

Worst Area
Worst portion of lease on 1/20/2021 as cleanup started.
Same area 11 days later on 1/31/2021. Tanks on right have been left intentionally for now and are empty.
Second Worst Area
Second worst area on 1/1/2020.
Same area on 1/31/2021 after cleanup. Note that five storage tanks are gone.

Industrial Litter Still Clutters Site

A drilling rig, travel trailers, trucks, drill pipe and more still remain on the site. Peter Fisher, District Director for the Railroad Commission said the Commission planned to salvage/auction those items. However, he could make no promises. “Sometimes we’re successful and sometimes we’re not,” said Fisher. It depends on the market.

Abandoned pipe and more still remains on Noxxe site.

Abandoned Wells Still Not Plugged

Abandoned wells on this site have not yet been plugged. Neither have wells on the western portion of the site near Marina Drive and Aqua Vista. The Railroad Commission says that “depending on well prioritization, approvals, rig scheduling, and so on, we have an estimated time of 14 to 19 weeks” for plugging.

Note oil sheen on ponding water next to San Jacinto West Fork, upper right.
Again, note the oily sheen on the water next to these abandoned wells. The San Jacinto West Fork/Lake Houston (lower left) provide water for 2 million people.

Much Work Still Yet to Do

“All eligible orphan wells for plugging will be submitted to Austin for approval. From there and dependent on the factors mentioned before, we will plug as many of the wells as possible in that area,” said Gilbert Herrera of the Railroad Commission. 

You can view all the “orphan wells” in that area on the Railroad Commission’s GIS map. An orphan well is one left behind by a bankrupt company.

Harvey forced Noxxe out of business. The company could not afford the cleanup. However, the Pew Foundation found that “So-called “orphan” oil and gas wells, which have been abandoned by defunct companies that cannot pay to plug them, are a growing problem in many states thanks to a recent slump in energy prices that has forced marginal operators out of business.”

“Nobody knows how many orphan and abandoned drilling sites litter farms, forests and backyards nationwide. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates there are more than a million of them. Unplugged wells can leak methane, an explosive gas, into neighborhoods and leach toxins into groundwater,” said Pew.

How many wells are there around the Humble salt dome? Hundreds, if not thousands. See below.

Screen capture of Railroad Commission GIS database showing oil and gas wells in the Humble/Kingwood area. Note the circular outline that matches the shape of the Humble salt dome.

The Railroad Commission GIS database lets you toggle software switches to see which wells are active, dry, plugged, orphaned, etc. Hovering your cursor over a dot shows the current status of the well.

Drillers frequently find oil and gas around salt domes. Salt, which is buoyant within the earth, fractures surrounding rock. Oil and gas seep into those fractures where it collects in commercial quantities. Is there any doubt why this area was so attractive to oil companies over the years? Here’s a history of the Humble Oil field which was discovered in 1904.

Once again, thanks to State Representative Dan Huberty for working with the Railroad Commission to accelerate cleanup of this area once the problems became known.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/3/2021

1254 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Close-Up Photos of Noxxe’s Devastation

The oil and gas company with the joke name (Exxon spelled backwards) is no joking matter. After flooding from Hurricane Harvey, Noxxe left a mile-long trail of devastation in Forest Cove for taxpayers to clean up. The company’s toxic legacy includes dozens of abandoned wells, toppled tanks, and twisted, rusting, ruptured pipes – all in the floodway of the San Jacinto River West Fork, which supplies drinking water to two million people.

Meeting with Texas Railroad Commission

After a series of posts on this subject, I received a call from the Texas Railroad Commission (TRRC). TRRC took control of Noxxe’s operation after the company went bankrupt in February.

Sign posted on entry to Noxxe lease

The Commission’s District Cleanup Coordinator invited me to tour the site with him and discuss the status of cleanup. There’s good news and bad.

Good News

  • Tanks have been drained of toxic chemicals.
  • Some wells have been plugged.
  • TRCC believes the oil spilled on the ground will degrade naturally.
  • A small check dam should keep oil-contaminated rainwater from washing into the river (except in floods).

Bad News

  • Many of the wells have NOT been plugged.
  • Oil has spilled on the ground.
  • Rusting, oil-covered equipment litters the property.
  • Legally, the state has no recourse against the company’s management or the property owners.
  • The State Comptroller’s Office has taken over bidding for cleanup jobs like this, but reportedly has no specialists in toxic waste cleanup.
  • The Comptroller’s Office has reportedly established an “approved vendor list” for these jobs, but the list doesn’t have enough vendors to handle all the work needed in the State.
  • TRRC has no budget to handle the Noxxe job and may not get it.
  • Thieves steal equipment with salvage value.
  • Brine (saltwater produced with oil and gas) has contaminated many parts of the site, killing vegetation.

Ground-Level Photos

These photos represent only a small portion of the site. But I’m sure you get the picture.

Editorial Opinion

Texas and Texans make their living from minerals. But left like this, those minerals may be the death of us, too. Noxxe has given a black eye to the entire oil and gas industry, which has thousands of reputable companies and millions of hard-working people in Texas.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/26/2020

1125 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.