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Wastewater well hearing questioned

Two groups claim Oil and Gas Commission broke state meeting laws

 


Two environmental organizations are claiming the Sidney-based Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission broke state laws at a public meeting last month.

On March 24, the commission’s office on Illinois Street was filled to capacity as a permit application for a commercial wastewater well in Mitchell was discussed.

The applicant, Terex Energy Corporation, based in Broomfield, Colo., is seeking approval to convert an oil well into a disposal site for contaminated water and chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.

The proposal has received regional and state media coverage. At the meeting, opponents of the project – who vastly outnumbered supporters – spoke out about Nebraska serving as a dumping site for other states, the potential for spills, a lack of regulatory oversight and increased truck traffic to and from the well.

After the public comment portion of the meeting, a formal hearing was conducted.

Earlier this week, the Nebraska Sierra Club and Bold Nebraska filed a complaint with state attorney general Doug Peterson alleging the commission violated open meeting laws during the meeting.

“The violations include the commission’s statements on the record at the hearing that public comments from citizens during the morning session would not be included in the official record or considered by the commission while making its decision on the proposed permit,” a joint release from the two organizations states.

The groups highlight a statement made by the lawyer representing the applicants during the formal hearing when he asked opponents not to refer to the earlier public comment period because, “that’s not going to be part of the record.”

Seven other accusations, largely procedural, were lodged in the complaint submitted to the attorney general.

“We are asking the attorney general to protect the public’s rights in this process,” said Ken Winston, a Nebraska Sierra Club policy advocate in the release. “The Oil and Gas Commission attempted to limit the public’s right to be heard, failed to follow both their own rules and state law and engaged in arbitrary and capricious conduct in the way they conducted their March 24 hearing.”

Stan Belieu, deputy director of the commission, said the board is free to consider whatever information or evidence it wishes when evaluating applications – including public comment.

“The commissioners can use anything they want to use,” he said. “If they want to include comments from the public, of course they include all those opinions and comments – that’s why you have that part of the session.”

He added, the meeting was properly archived.

“There were certainly two parts to the hearing: there was the morning part and the afternoon part, and a recording and transcripts were made on both of them,” he said.

Following the groups’ complaints, Belieu said, numerous media outlets have contacted the Oil and Gas Commission.

“The official response from the commission is we don’t have any comment on the individual complaints made by these two groups,” Belieu said. “Rather, we’re going to cooperate with the attorney general’s office fully in their investigation of this.”

A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office said the complaints are under review.

 

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