Neighbors continue fight against oil waste well after major court loss

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wwltv.com

Posted on January 21, 2014 at 11:32 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jan 21 at 11:41 PM

Monica Hernandez / Eyewitness News
Email: mhernandez@wwltv.com | Twitter: @mhernandezwwl

HOUMA, La. - It's a close-knit community where families spend afternoons playing in the park.

But neighbors like Chris Domangue believe the very fabric of their Houma neighborhood could change if an oil waste facility is built nearby.

“It's going to have such profound impacts just on the entire downtown area as we know it,” said Domangue.

The stakes are already in the ground to build an oil waste injection well just a few hundred yards from a church, playgrounds, a walking trail and two schools. Downtown Houma is within a mile of the proposed well, and so are hundreds of homes.

Vanguard Vacuum wants to build it next to its existing trucking business on the busy Highway 182.

“They'll be bringing in fluids from other parishes, other localities, to be injected into our ground,” said Terrebonne Parish President Michel Claudet.

Those fluids can contain radioactive material and carcinogens like benzene. But under state and federal law, all oil waste is exempt from being classified as hazardous, regardless of what's in it.

The parish has been fighting against the well since 2011,but recently lost in Louisiana Supreme Court.

“We've always been an oil and gas state, but my heavens, we've gone way to far,” said Claudet. “They have actually sold out to the interests of the oil industry.”

State law allows oil waste facilities to be as close as 500 feet from the nearest home or business. The parish has a more stringent ordinance, calling for a one mile buffer from the nearest occupied building, but the court ruled that when it comes to oil waste, the state has the final say.

“I was sick to my stomach,” said Domangue.

“I truly believe that if it can happen like it did in Terrebonne, then it can happen in any parish in the state of Louisiana,” said Claudet.

Vanguard Vacuum wants to inject saltwater associated with oil production about 4,000 feet underground, but residents are concerned about what happens one it gets below the surface.

“It's going to plume out so it's going to extend under other people's property,” said Claudet.

The parish is looking into whether that means the well would violate people's property rights. It's part of the continuing fight against the oil waste injection well.

Neighbors like Domangue say the fight is far from over.

The parish is also looking into asking the legislature to consider amending state laws to allow parishes to enforce their own zoning regulations when it comes to oil waste.

The Department of Conservation, which falls under the Department of Natural Resources, issued the permit for the oil waste injection well in 2011.

A spokesman for the DNR said it was acting within the laws on the books when the permit was issued.

Vanguard Vacuum did not return our calls for comment. But in a previous Eyewitness News Report, the company maintains the injection well would be safe.

 

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