A recent community meeting to get answers about a December oil well blowout left many Missouri City residents more frustrated than informed, however, they have vowed to get organized.
The Tuesday night meeting, hosted by state Sen. Borris Miles and state Rep. Ron Reynolds, brought a panel of representatives from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the Texas Railroad Commission to a Missouri City church for a town-hall style meeting.
While drilling the well, IWR Operating encountered a gas pocket and experienced a blowout, causing a release of 3,300 barrels of crude oil in a 500-foot radius on the drilling pad site in southwest Houston near Texas Parkway and the Fort Bend County Tollway. The incident caused a foul odor similar to rotten eggs to be emitted, which led to concerns within the community for health and safety.
Representatives of the Railroad Commission of Texas, which has jurisdiction over oil and gas exploration, production and transportation and TCEQ said the odors, while bad, were not a threat to public health and safety.
But many of the 150 residents present were angry and suspicious because they were not notified of the blowout when it occurred, they learned from media reports. Some said they have complaints and questions as far back as 2013 about the fumes and they were ignored.
During the two-hour gathering, Miles walked around with the microphone giving residents time to ask questions and sometimes paraphrasing what they were saying.
“What notice do we get, is there an autoblast? How are we supposed to know? This neighborhood endured this for years and it’s time to stop,” Miles said.
Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton said they work with the local hazmat team, the county and the city. Testing did not show the situation to be a threat to health safety, he said.
They wanted assurance that their ground water is not affected and more than one speaker had questions about the number of residents in her neighborhood alone, who have been diagnosed with or have died from rare cancers.
Miles cautioned that there were no physicians on the panel. Others wanted to know why drilling is allowed 24 hours a day and why a company under investigation, the way IWR is, should be given a second permit to drill somewhere else.
The investigation remains “open and active,” said a TCEQ official.
At one point Mills, Reynolds and elected officials from Missouri City, Houston and Fort Bend County huddled together.
“That well is in an unincorporated area. Ron and I will ask the commissioner if he can do something. Somebody has to have regulatory over what happens in our community,” Miles said.
According to a press release sent out after the meeting by Sitton, the TCEQ extensively tested the area where odors were noted and found no health risks. In addition, Houston Fire Department’s HazMat Senior Captain Johnson presented information related to their monitoring and assessment of air quality in the immediate aftermath of the blowout, finding no harmful levels of air toxins present.
In the days following the blowout, 90 percent of the hydrocarbon release was recovered from reserve pits on the drilling location with the additional 10 percent recovered in soil excavation. The well was plugged on Dec. 19, and all remediation and clean up was reported by the operator as completed on Feb. 9.
“I work directly for the 27 million Texans of this state and it’s my duty and commitment as Railroad Commissioner to ensure that they feel confident in the way oil and gas companies are operating in their communities,” Sitton said. “Nothing is more important than public and environmental safety, and I’m extremely appreciative of Sen. Miles and Rep. Reynolds bringing together the community to address their concerns and provide the facts. No one likes it when incidents like this occur, but the Railroad Commission is committed to ensuring that remediation is done according to required standards and that drilling operators follow all prescribed rules.”