Cooke County —
Local case hearings regarding an air quality control permit for energy company EOG Resources, Inc., and its frac sand mine operation in Cooke County are set for April 22-23.
A final decision about the permit, however, still may not come until later in the year.
State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) special counsel Tom Walston explained Thursday that as they had in July 2012, SOAH judges Penny Wilkov and Travis Vickery will officiate Gainesville’s contested case hearing with testimony from parties who oppose or support granting a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) air quality control permit to EOG.
The Gainesville hearings follow additional hearings in Austin that begin Monday and extend through April 19.
Only those officially registered as “interested parties,” Walston added, will be permitted to speak, as in a regular trial.
“In theory, if someone wanted to, they could call a witness to testify,” he said. “But it’s not open for public comment.”
The mine and its opponents
The upcoming hearings are a continuation of those conducted in July 2012, when SOAH judges Wilkov and Vickery visited Gainesville’s Cooke County Courthouse Annex Building and heard testimony from several people looking to join an official record and be part of future air permit hearings during the coming months.
This included opponents and proponents of the mine. Many of the “interested parties” are Cooke and Montague county residents who question the safety measures that parent company EOG Resources, Inc. intends to take when using its 1,400-acre mine to process silica-based sand. The parties are mostly local residents who live and work near the mine in development. Along with possible air contamination, they insist the frac mining operation will result in water contamination and a monopoly of water stores from nearby aquifers.
Since spring 2011, those critics of the project have said the sand generated by the mine must be properly contained and constantly monitored once EOG is actually in full operation. The April hearings in Austin and Gainesville are the end steps in the process of determining the company’s eligibility for a TCEQ air permit. If granted, the permit would allow the frac operation to commence in whole — though the mine has been in development since early 2011.
On Thursday afternoon, EOG Public Relations Manager K Leonard explained no mining or construction has been underway at the site, since permits are still pending.
Parties on record
EOG Resources, Inc. (permit applicant); representatives: Casey A. Bell and Allen Eli Bell, attorney.
TCEQ executive director; representative: Betsy Peticolas, litigation division staff attorney.
OPIC; representative: Amy Swanholm, assistant public interest counsel.
Rebecca Harris, Holly Harris-Bayer and Red River Motorcycle Trails, Inc., Recreation Park; representative: Charles W. Irvine, attorney.
Mary E. Del Olmo, John Frederick, Mike Bartush, J’Lynn Hare, Wildcat Archery, Bartush Land & Cattle Company, Blue Ostrich Winery and Vineyard, and Arche Winery (all under Red River Agriculture and Wildlife Tourism); representative: Mary E. Del Olmo.
(Members of the Cooke County commissioners court, plus members of the Save the Trinity Aquifer coalition, have reportedly withdrawn as interested parties.)
After the hearings
Walston said following the Austin and Gainesville hearings, the judges will prepare a proposal for decision, which will be sent to TCEQ. Any parties involved, he added, will be entitled to file “exceptions” to the proposed decision if they disagree.
This could lead to further open meetings derived from those exceptions. Walston said generally, the timeline between the hearings and a permit decision is several months.
And during any open meetings in between, summaries of all official arguments are included for TCEQ to consider before a decision is made.
“That’s what the commission has to do instead of going back over the whole case,” he said. “So this is an involved process, and some of that can be driven by the parties.”
Walston said the exhaustive duration of this frac mine permit case has been directly proportionate to the opponents and the amount of complaints they have raised since 2011, in objection to allowing the mine to operate.
“In a case like this, instead of being only two or three issues to consider, there are a lot of issues involved,” he said.
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