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ground water is now in question. The curvy, narrow, unpaved county road to their homes will soon be crowded with 50 to 80 tanker trucks a day heading in and out of the well site. And Tracy Smith, an asthmatic who is unusually vulnerable to toxic fumes, now lives in fear of a hydrogen sulfide gas release strong enough to suffocate her before help could arrive. “I can hardly get beyond my fear of the pollution,” says Carson, “but the added reality of it is, you either stay and be polluted, or you try to sell out. But then, who’s going to buy your property?” Such stories are not unusual. Just minutes before the Railroad Commission denied Carson’s complaint on April 11, the commission denied a similar complaint against an injection well in Hood County. And near the town of Lipan, also in Hood County, residents recently learned of an application for an injection well less than half a mile from the town’s only source of water. William T. Richardson, who lives next door to the site, describes it as “right out my back door. They say 150 tanker trucks a day could be coming in here. My wife called them, and they said as long as they followed [Railroad Commission] rules, we couldn’t do nothing about it. Then they hung up on her.” That permit application is pending. The idea behind an injection well is to blast waste deep enough underground that it can’t cause problems. An injection well consists of a deep hole and a long pipe. But once the waste is underground, there are no bar riers to prevent it from migrating into drinking wells, ground water, or in some cases, even bubbling back to the surface and killing vegetation. Indeed, complaints about wells gone bad are common. The Railroad Commission has long been charged with regulating injection wells for “nonhazardous” oilfield waste. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality oversees injection wells of hazardous waste. [See related story, page 19.] The Railroad Commission received 320 permit applications for commercial injection wells in 2005, according to the agency. Of those, the commission temporarily denied only 15, mostly for technical errors or missing information from the applicant. Injection wells can also be operated for commercial purposes. Commercial wells accept waste from multiple sources, including from outside the state. Private injection wells inject only the wastes of one operator. There are hundreds of applications for private injection wells every year, and the Railroad Commission admits it checks on only a small percentage of them. There are more than 31,000 injections wells in Texas the most of any state. A check of Railroad Commission records reveals hundreds of recent complaintsand thousands over the years. Coming from at least 85 counties, the complaints are almost all about ground water contamination, mostly by sodium, crude oil, and hydrocarbons. In fact, because of past waste disposal practices, including the practice of simply dumping the waste above ground, it would be fair to say that for decades, oil and gas drilling wastes have polluted ground water across vast areas of Texas. Even though Railroad Commission regulations and oversight have improved, the problems continue. In 2005, near Chico, about 20 miles from Carson’s home, fluids from a commercial injection well came bubbling to the surface in other wells nearby. “We were afraid something like this might happen,” says Chico Mayor James Robinson. Previously, city officials had written letters and gone to Railroad Commission meetings to plead for stronger Tanker trucks dump into an injection well in Wise County. MAY 19, 2006 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7