HOUMA, La. - An Eyewitness Investigation on Wednesday exposed health concerns surrounding an oil waste facility in Grand Bois.
Now, a Terrebonne Parish community says those issues are prompting them to forge a fight of their own.
They're trying to stop an oil waste site from being built nearby. Neighbors believe regulatory loopholes mean sites like this could be built in any community.
Chris Domangue never expected his home would be in danger of having an oil waste site nearby. Now that's exactly what he, and Terrebonne Parish government, are working to fight.
“It's just unfathomable why you would want to build something in a residential neighborhood right next to downtown Houma,” said Domangue.
The proposed oil waste site would be located within a mile of a neighborhood that has hundreds of homes, a church and two schools. That's against parish ordinance. But under state law, these sites can be as close as 500 feet from the nearest occupied building.
Last year, Vanguard Vacuum sued the parish and won. First District Judge George Larke ruled in favor of state law over parish ordinance.
Now, the parish is appealing.
“This is what we consider a real infringement on what we believe are the safety issues and the health and welfare of our people,” said Michel Claudet, the parish spokesman.
“To allow a parish like Terrebonne Parish to trump state law in the regulation of the oil and gas industry would create chaos,” said Tim Ellender, Vanguard’s attorney. “They ought to go to Baton Rouge and seek to change the law.”
Vanguard already has an oil waste trucking business in Houma. In 2011, it received state permits to build an injection well on a two acre lot it owns adjacent to its current site on Hwy. 182.
The company wants to inject oil waste under high pressure about 4,000 feet into the ground. It maintains the procedure would be safe. But neighbors believe there’s still a risk.
“There's just so many pieces in the process to go from point A to point B, before it even goes safely underground. Why would you want to risk it?” said Domangue
According to the parish, the site would also include above ground storage tanks.
The company intends to dispose of saltwater associated with oil production in the well. The waste can contain radioactive materials and toxins like benzene, a known carcinogen.
Under federal law, oil waste is exempt from being classified as hazardous, regardless of what types of chemicals it contains. It’s left up to the state to regulate how oil waste is handled and the amount of toxins facilities are allowed to emit.
Meanwhile, Domangue believes the case could open the door to other waste facilities in the area.
As he raises a 10-month-old daughter, he believes his family may consider moving if the injection well is built.
“What is this place going to look like 20, 30 years from now? I don't even want to think about it to be honest. It's very scary,” said Domangue.
Claudet said the parish will take the case all the way to the Louisiana Supreme Court if necessary.
While the area relies on the oil industry, Claudet said his administration does not want an oil waste facility nearby.