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6 Investigates Follows-Up: Feds move ahead on Choke Canyon lease - KRISTV.com | Continuous News Coverage | Corpus Christi

6 Investigates Follows-Up: Feds move ahead on Choke Canyon lease sale

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Oil-rich land near city's drinking water supply no longer listed for auction by a federal agency (KRIS 6 News) Oil-rich land near city's drinking water supply no longer listed for auction by a federal agency (KRIS 6 News)
CORPUS CHRISTI -

The Center for Biological Diversity today released a response to the decision by the The Bureau of Land Management to move forward with the auction of 4,300 acres of federal land for fracking and drilling in Texas and Oklahoma - despite pending legal protests from the City of Corpus Christi and conservation groups concerned about public health threats.

According to their statement, the oil and gas leasing auction also comes over the objections of the City of Brenham, state representatives and U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas). The fracking plans threaten drinking water, reservoirs and dams.

“It endangers public health and safety to frack dams, lakes and reservoirs. And it’s reckless for the BLM to go forward with this sale knowing these dangers,” said Wendy Park, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “When oil industry profits matter more than people and safe drinking water, our government is broken.”

Parcels targeted for fracking in Texas are near or underneath lakes and dams, including Lake Somerville, Choke Canyon Reservoir and Lake Texana," Park said. The reservoir and Lake Texana supply water to more than 440,000 residents of Corpus Christi and 17 other cities. Fracking-induced earthquakes could compromise the dams’ integrity and drinking-water supplies.

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“Corpus Christi can’t afford to have two of its water supply lakes impaired,” said Rita Beving, North Texas outreach coordinator for Clean Water Action. “Runoff from drilling operations and increased pressures due to fracking pose an increasing threat to water quality and dam infrastructure. Legislators and city officials have made their objections to these parcels known as the BLM’s upcoming auction approaches, but the BLM has turned a blind eye.”

The Bureau is moving forward with today’s lease sale without responding to legal protests filed in February by conservation groups and Corpus Christi. The protests cite the potential for spills, water contamination and earthquakes that could jeopardize dam integrity. The protests also raise concerns that new fracking could spread pollutants along faults and fissures to existing wells, causing leaks. The Bureau has indicated that it will not enact leases until the protests have been resolved.

In April, the Brenham City Council unanimously approved a resolution opposing the BLM’s plans to allow fracking beneath Lake Somerville. The resolution cited concerns that contamination of the lake’s water supply would be “catastrophic” for its residents. Lake Somerville is Brenham’s sole drinking-water source.

“With unprecedented opposition to the proposal to lease lands under lakes utilized by both the City of Corpus Christi and the City of Brenham, proceeding with these leases is a slap in the face to the elected officials of these cities, and to the many Texans who expressed their view that these lakes are special places deserving of protection,” said Cyrus Reed, conservation director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.

The Center filed a supplementary protest Tuesday over the Bureau’s failure to analyze the risks of water contamination from leaking wells and the potential for new leaks due to increased fracking.

Public records obtained by the Center in April revealed that four wells have been leaking into or near Choke Canyon Reservoir for years. Despite saying the leaks posed no risk, officials have begun to explore how to plug the wells and inspect them underwater. It’s unclear whether such inspections have ever been conducted. Emails show that officials don’t know who is responsible for re-plugging the wells or whether well owners can be identified.

A map created by the Center, using Railroad Commission well data, shows more than 20 old plugged wells located in the reservoir, most less than 2 miles from the parcels in today’s lease sale. More than 100 active oil wells and seven gas wells are within the reservoir — many within 2 miles of lease-sale parcels. There are also more than 100 unproductive wells scattered throughout the reservoir. Plugged or unused wells can increase water-pollution risks by offering additional pathways for fracking chemicals to spread underground.

“I can’t believe the gall of oil companies trying to frack in and around drinking water supplies,” said Environment Texas Director Luke Metzger, who spoke at a packed town hall meeting in Brenham about the issue last month. “We can’t risk ruining these lakes to let Big Oil make a few more bucks. The communities stand opposed to these dangerous lease sales, and BLM should withdraw them.”

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