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

HOUMA, La. - Vivian Rodrigue has lived in Houma for 40 years. There are hundreds of homes in her neighborhood, plus a playground, two schools and a church.

And this month, there's a new addition that Rodrigue had hoped she wouldn't see.

Vanguard Vacuum, a long-time trucking company in the community, has begun drilling a controversial oil waste injection well on Hwy. 182 near Rodrigue's neighborhood.

The Terrebonne Parish government has been fighting it for years.

'The more I deal with the state, the more I find the oil industry has the upper hand when it comes to laws and rulings,' said Terrebonne Parish President Michel Claudet.

'We're going to have odors and dangerous chemicals, cancer-causing chemicals, leaking out into the air,' said Rodrigue.

Under state and federal law, oil waste is exempt from being classified as hazardous, even though it can contain toxic chemicals that would be classified as hazardous in other industries.

The well in Houma will be 4,000 feet below ground, if it continues to move forward.

Even as the well is drilled, the parish and a group of neighbors continue to fight. The focus now is on whether the company needs an air permit for the well.

Vanguard submitted paperwork to DEQ saying it will not release enough regulated pollutants, more than five tons a year in our state, to require an air permit. And since DEQ has decided the company doesn't need an air permit, no one will monitor air emissions near the well once it is built.

The parish government believes Vanguard is underestimating emissions, based on their calculations of emissions from similar facilities, and on documents Vanguard submitted to a second regulatory agency, the Department of Natural Resources. The parish has asked DEQ to reconsider its stance.

'I'm just really upset at the fact [the state] will permit a commercial salt-water injection well that will inject hazardous materials into the well right adjacent to playgrounds, schools and old neighborhoods in my area,' said Claudet.

'I felt like we were being steamrolled. There was no regard for the people here,' said Rodrigue.

A DEQ environmental scientist says the well may not be a done deal, even though it's already being built.

'We are considering all the information provided, we are reviewing the materials. We will reach a conclusion in the near future,' said Bryan Johnston, an environmental scientist in DEQ's air permits division.

A spokesman with the DNR said regulators will test the well to make sure it will hold up under injection pressure.

Vanguard Vacuum did not return our calls for comment, but has said in past Eyewitness News reports that the facility would be safe.

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