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Mystery of Crane County water problems continues

Workers were surprised to find the well full of crude oil.
Published: Jun. 20, 2022 at 10:20 PM CDT
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CRANE COUNTY, Texas (KOSA) - More questions have arisen after an attempted plugging of a water well turned up a surprising amount of crude oil.

“We don’t know what’s happening here,” said Sarah Stogner. “That’s part of the problem.”

It was supposed to be a regular plug of a water well on the Antina Ranch in Crane County, a sprawling ranch that’s experienced numerous problems with water busting to the surface.

Stogner, the former Republican railroad commissioner candidate, is now the ranch manager at Antina Ranch. She says she saw what happened.

“We were watching the operator trying to pull it to plug the well, and when they pulled the casing, that’s where we see the sludge and the oil that came out,” she said.

That caught everyone by surprise. The well is only a few hundred feet deep and there is not supposed to crude oil in it.

The well was turned over to the Railroad Commission per state regulation. Stogner says that when an RRC employee came to test the water, the oil was so bountiful it made a water sample almost impossible. She added that rude oil samples were taken, and the RRC hoped to identify the liquid’s source.

A single water well with oil in it might not normally be cause for concern, but Crane County and nearby areas have dealt with numerous high-profile well blowouts, including a 100-foot geyser and the highly toxic Lake Boehmer. The key element in all of these problems is water and pressure in unusual quantities.

So, in this specific situation, how did the crude find its way into the water? Stogner has her theories. She believes that long-forgotten, plugged wells and the more recent saltwater injection are creating an underground conduit.

“It finds pathways up through old well bores, faults, other things underground, and it eventually makes its way to the surface,” Stogner said.

That pressure shows up on gauges throughout the ranch and is affecting numerous plugged wells, including one a few hundred yards away that has been dripping toxic water for months.

“It’s got radium. It’s got salt. It’s got sulfur,” Stogner said, staring at the water.

Yet, as more evidence of a problem emerges, the answer to what the problem is and what it means for residents of rural West Texas remains unsolved. As concern over what can be seen grows, the lack of knowledge about what lies beneath gets more disconcerting.

“We have nothing without our well water, without our groundwater.”

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