News Feature | December 12, 2013

Is It Trespassing When Wastewater Seeps From An Injection Well?

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


A rice farmer and an energy company are going head-to-head in front of the Texas Supreme Court this January over the issue of wastewater.

A company that operates injection wells will square off against a rice farm "that says wastewater from those wells has migrated into a saltwater aquifer below its land," the Texas Tribune reported

The farm "calls the migration trespassing, for which it should be compensated" the report said. 

According to court documents, the case will look at "whether subsurface wastewater migration can constitute a trespass, or whether it did so in this case." Oil Patch Asia said the case tackles an ancient legal conundrum: "How far below the earth’s surface do property lines extend?"

Environmental Processing Services built an injection well 16 years ago about 400 feet from F.P.L. Farming. "Since then, the company has injected more than 100 million gallons of wastewater," the Tribune report said. 

The farm is worried about contamination to its groundwater. 

"Representatives of the farm say they worry that the waste, which includes the flammable liquid acetone, will contaminate its groundwater and erode the value of its property. Though the water is too salty to drink, those on the farm’s side contend that it is valuable because desalination technology could make it drinkable," the report said. 

The well operator argues that the aquifer is no more polluted than it would be otherwise. 

Attorneys from Baker Botts analyzed the case in Pipeline & Gas Journal: "A decision in this important case is pending and will likely further shape the landscape of Texas subsurface trespass law."

Law360 said the decision could have broad consequences for how wastewater is handled.  "The outcome could force energy companies to rethink how they dispose of byproducts from fracking and other power generation activities," it said. 

For more on wastewater policies affecting the energy industry, check out previous coverage on Water Online. 

Image credit: "Oklahoma Sunset, Oil Well 2," © 2005 Clinton Steeds, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license:

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