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Energy & Environment

Houston Scrutinizing Request To Drill Oil Well Near Major Drinking Water Source

Fewer oil wells are being drilled these days in Texas but the work hasn’t stopped. In fact, one new permit would allow drilling in a place that’s raising concern: a spot very close to Lake Houston, one of the city’s major sources for drinking water.


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Five years ago, the City of Houston passed an ordinance against drilling oil & gas wells near Lake Houston. The ordinance says wells must be at least a thousand feet from the shore or from any streams that lead to the lake, the lake that provides a lot of the city's drinking water.

The point was that if a well blew out, the thousand feet would be a buffer in which the operator could stop any flow of oil or chemicals or other fluids before they reached the lake. But here's the thing: there's been a lot of oil found very near Lake Houston.

The lake lies just east of Humble, home of the Humble Oil field that a century ago was one of the nation's richest finds. And today, you can go online and pull up the state's interactive map of well sites and can see dozens of old, plugged wells very near the Lake Houston shore.

But you can also find wells that are active, producing oil. And in a couple of locations, you can find where the state has issued permits for new wells to be drilled. One of those is 3,700 feet from the Lake's northeast shore near the city of Huffman and a subdivision called Lakewood Heights.

"I immediately thought of fracking as soon as I heard about it, " says Jere Locke.

Locke does not live in the subdivision. But he says he and his family own the mineral rights for some of the acreage, rights he said they and other owners agreed to lease to allow drilling.

"I signed because I wasn't willing to make a big fight of it with my family and a with a lot of other people... but I promised myself I'd do something about it, " Locke said.

Locke is a founder of a climate change awareness group called the Texas Drought Project. So he was very sensitive to any possible threat to water supplies, including oil drilling and the drilling technique known as fracking which the industry insists is safe.

"Houston Texas has gotten very used to oil and gas. And I think they need to have a second thought about all drilling. Not just, certainly fracking, but also more conventional drilling," says Locke.

We couldn't reach anyone with the drilling company, Tri-C Resources based in Houston. But in the Humble Observer, company officials were quoted as saying they had no plans to frack the well near Lake Houston.

According to the City of Houston, it's now processing the company's application for a permit to drill as required under Houston's ordinance. The company already has the state's permission. Last year, Texas passed a law to restrict what cities can do to regulate oil & gas drilling.

Jere Locke, with the climate change group, said concerned citizens will be meeting to discuss drilling near Lake Houston this Thursday at noon at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston, 5200 Fannin St. and at 7pm at the Kingwood Branch Library, 4400 Bens View Lane.