With heightened interest and increased activity in domestic oil production, rural landowners are being encouraged to consider the potential for negative impacts on their land and on agricultural production before engaging in contracts involving the oil and gas industry.
In two separate reports from Texas Agrilife Extension Service this month, oil professionals and landowners are cautioned to understand the relationship between agriculture and oil exploration and the possible negative and positive impacts on the land.
In one report, oil and gas professionals are being encouraged to attend an Extension Service stewardship conference in the oil rich Permian Basin on the potential for negative impacts on rangeland, and the second report advises rural landowners to be aware of the benefits and dangers of contracting with the oil and gas industry to allow drilling fluids, including muds and liquids, to be applied to rural fields in South Texas and other areas across the state where oil fracking is underway.
According to Sam Feagley, AgriLife Extension state soil environmental specialist, waste by-products including muds and mixtures used in oil drilling can be applied to rural property safely, but landowners need to understand the potential for danger by fully understanding the nature of the fluids and solids that will be dumped on fields and the safeguards that should be taken to minimize the impact to agricultural production and land damage.
“There are numerous potential issues associated with land application of these materials,” Feagley said. “If done properly on soils that can accept these types of materials, no detrimental effects should occur, however, if not applied properly, then numerous detrimental effects can occur that can take many years to remediate."
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Feagley was interviewed by AgriLife Extension Service writer Kay Ledbettter in a special report.
“I know money talks, and I’ve been told they will offer anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 per acre to land-apply these materials in Texas,” Feagley added. “But we have a legacy and responsibility for our soils.”
The report says drilling fluids and muds come from oil and gas exploration, and it is recycled until it cannot be used anymore. But then it needs to be disposed of, and operators turn to landowners who will allow the “sludge” to be spread across their acreage.
Sludge mixtures vary from well-to-well
Apparently no two muds are the same from drilling operation to drilling operation depending on the recipe used to create the mud mixture. But most muds will contain bentonite clay, barium sulfate, lime, soda ash, lignite and loss of circulation materials, which can be ground peanut shells or other organic and inorganic materials.
Feagley says in some cases, the sludge can be beneficial to soils by reducing impaction of soils from tilling. Also, adding sludge with high clay content to sandy soils can increase water retention and nutrient values.
But oil drilling mud mixtures can also add high levels of salt to soils and can kill grasses and take away from the ability of some soils to support plant life.
“It can take years to regenerate an area if the material is applied improperly,” Feagley said. “Remediation takes time; it’s not a quick fix to get salts in the soils out.”
Feagley warns property owners to conduct soil tests and to fully evaluate the material to be dumped on their property and how they are applied before signing any contracts. While many oil and gas companies provide a list of contents of muds and liquids to be dumped, he says others may fail to list all the materials included. He advices landowners to stand firm on testing of materials to be dumped as well and to work with a lawyer before entering into any contract.
Feagley said “Land Application of Drilling Fluids: Landowner Considerations” is a publication that gives more details on regulations and considerations and can be found at http://bit.ly/19kIUnA .
“And be sure to check out the company, because there are some that do a good job and some, not so good,” Feagley says. “Good contractors will work with you from the beginning to the end – that’s from application to three or four years down the road when you can see how the crop responds. And ask questions, always ask questions.”
Oil & Gas Stewardship Conference targets oil industry officials
In a second AgriLife statement released this week, oil and gas officials are being encouraged to attend the Permian Basin Oil and Gas Stewardship Conference and Trade Show for oil operators and landowners Aug. 13.
“The Permian Basin has seen almost constant oil and gas production for most of the last century, but the current boom we’re experiencing is at record numbers,” said Caleb Eaton, AgriLife Extension agent in Crane County.
Eaton said the oilfield activity is having negative effects on the region’s rangeland, which is detrimental to livestock and wildlife. The resulting bare ground tends to create wind erosion problems and opens the door for invasive noxious plants to gain a foothold.
"The goal of this conference is to give oil and gas operators the most accurate and efficient practices for reclaiming rangelands after oilfield disturbance,” Eaton added.
“The goal of this conference is to give oil and gas operators the most accurate and efficient practices for reclaiming rangelands after oilfield disturbance,” he said.
The primary conference speakers will be Dr. Alyson McDonald, AgriLife Extension range specialist at Fort Stockton, and Santos Gonzales with the Texas Railroad Commission at Midland.
McDonald will present Reseeding Right-of-ways and Brush and Weed Control on Oilfield Sites. She will also lead a pipeline reseeding field tour, weather permitting.
Gonzales will speak on proper drilling site reclamation procedures.
The multi-county conference will be in the Crane County Exhibition Building, 900 W.6th St. in Crane. Conducting the program will be AgriLife Extension agents from Crane, Andrews, Pecos, Reeves and Winkler/Loving counties.
Individual registration is $15 and due upon arrival. RSVP by July 31 to the AgriLife Extension office in Crane County at 432-558-5322 or email [email protected] .
New law specialist added to Extension Service staff
In an effort to keep up with the changing landscape of legal ramifications between the oil and gas industry and rural property owners, Texas AgriLife extension Service has announced Tiffany Dowell has joined the Extension Service as an assistant professor and agricultural law specialist.
Dowell, who will be based in College Station, specializes in legal issues pertaining to oil and gas, water and property leasing/grazing rights, as well as other issues affecting farming and ranching.
“This is a unique position for AgriLife Extension and certainly a timely one with the heightened interest in Eagle Ford shale development and water rights,” said Dr. Mark Waller, AgriLife Extension program leader for agricultural economics in College Station.
Dowell previously was an associate attorney with the law firm of Peifer, Hanson and Mullins in Albuquerque, N.M. She received her law degree from the University of New Mexico School of Law and bachelor of science degree in agribusiness from Oklahoma State University.
Dowell grew up on a family ranch in New Mexico.
“Agricultural law has always been my interest and my background has prepared me well for this type of work,” she said. “With this position, I hope to help many farmers and ranchers with their questions and need for information statewide.”
Dowell has started an agricultural law blog at http://agrilife.org/texasaglaw/ that provides regular updates on various topics and weekly recaps on legal issues in the news. She will also provide traditional educational programming through workshops and conferences conducted by the agency statewide.
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