By GREG RUSSELL, Register Staff Writer
Gainesville Daily Register
Cooke County —
Spokesmen for oil and gas company EOG Resources, Inc. have responded to local criticism of their ongoing sand mine development in Cooke County.
EOG Shared Services General Manager Curt Parsons and public relations specialist K Leonard insisted their 1,400-acre mining operation near Saint Jo — where more than 2,500 tons of sand are extracted daily for later use in “frac” oil drilling — won’t waste resources or present health hazards as speculated.
And Leonard said her company itself is misunderstood. Though EOG has been identified in media as “Enron Oil and Gas,” she said the initials stand for nothing. She admitted the company is a former Enron subsidiary but said it split from the disgraced energy corporation more than a decade ago.
“We spun off from them, basically bought our way out of them, long before Enron imploded,” she said. “We’ve been a separate independent company for a long time.”
Public meetings June 14-15 in Muenster and Saint Jo helped foster concern about the mine, whose air permit is still pending with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). Another public meeting is set for Aug. 23, in Muenster, and Leonard and Parsons said they’ll attend.
But on July 19, the EOG officials, aware of recent speculation among county residents about the mine’s water use and allegedly toxic emissions, presented the Register a fact sheet. It outlines the company’s expectations of the mine’s resource use and environmental and public safety levels.
• Water conservation. Critics of the mine have questioned how much water the operation will require on a daily basis and where EOG will get it. The fact sheet said more than 90 percent of the water EOG uses won’t be from the county’s Trinity Aquifier but from a “brackish” source 400 to 600 feet deep. The water, unfit for human consumption, will be recycled and reused through the plant as machines wash the extracted sand. (Note: Wylie Harris, member of the local Save the Trinity Aquifier Coalition, recently issued a media release raising concern that the mine and brackish water extraction may have adverse effects on the nearby Mountain Creek, which feeds into the Red River. TCEQ personnel and Environmental Protection Agency investigators have visited the site during the past weeks and findings are pending.)
• Air quality. Critics raised concern about the mine’s alleged production of airborne and potentially lung-damaging “particulate matter” — up to 80 tons per year. But Parsons explained the sand, having been excavated, will be transported to a nearby oil field on a covered conveyor belt rather than with trucks. He added the conveyor will be equipped with a “mister bar” that keeps the sand wet and diminished of any dust that carries particulate matter. The sand will supposedly only be dry during a later step in the process where it’s already contained and surrounded by filters.
Parsons was asked if the total procedure will be completely harmless. “Have you ever seen anything that is absolutely 100 percent foolproof?” he said. “I say that it is a facility that is fully in compliance with the laws and regulations that are put in place to protect the workers and the public. And it is a very technically-advanced facility that complies with those requirements.
“What else would you expect of us?”
• Economy. The fact sheet said the mine will employ around 150 people during the development phase and 40 once its operational. Parsons said EOG paid 10 percent of Montague County’s tax income in 2010. The fact sheet said the company paid more than $2 million in taxes to Cooke and Montague counties last year and may double that next year, given EOG’s swelling activity.
During their July 19 visit, Parsons and Leonard emphasized EOG’s compliance with agreeable safety standards and its potential boon to the local economy. They said the reality of their operation doesn’t match some of the suspicion in the local air.
“We believe that the production of oil domestically, here in the U.S., is a very positive thing,” Parsons said. “That it helps the nation on a balance-of-payments basis. All of the money that EOG brings in, our cash flow, is all reinvested right back into the development of additional energy reserves for the American people. We think that’s a positive and this is a part of that.”