Railroad Commission investigations, sampling give insight into problems at Lake Boehmer

The Railroad Commission and Middle Pecos Groundwater Conservation District take samples from...
The Railroad Commission and Middle Pecos Groundwater Conservation District take samples from Lake Boehmer in May 2022.(KOSA-TV)
Published: Oct. 3, 2022 at 6:24 PM CDT
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ODESSA, Texas (KOSA) - A series of Railroad Commission of Texas reports obtained by CBS7 show testing of the water and air near Lake Boehmer show elevated levels of hydrogen sulfide, as well as give insight into the RRC’s position in regards to whether the well (Sloan Blair #1) poses a danger to West Texas aquifers.

RRC documents say that between Jan. 31 and March 24, groundwater samples were taken from Sloan Blair #1 and six water wells in the area.

These samples showed no hydrocarbons in the water but did show extremely high concentrations of total dissolved solids (TDS) chloride and sodium compared to other wells in the area. Only other well showed levels similar to those in Lake Boehmer.

The report puts forth two possible explanations for the elevated TDS levels: natural variability within the San Andres formation, which sits beneath the lake, or dissolution of shallow salt deposits known to exist beneath the lake.

The RRC investigation also speculates the well, “could indicate that the Sloan Blair #1 casing has been compromised by corrosion within or above the H2S field interval, which could allow San Andres water to interact with and dissolve salt deposits as it migrates to the surface,” and that, “the water quality of the Pecos Alluvium aquifer could be affected should the soil beneath the lake have sufficient vertical hydraulic conductivity and permeability to allow lake water to reach the water table in sufficient quantities to overwhelm natural dilution.”

The investigation states the Commission could order the landowner to plug Sloan Blair #1, “if the Commission determines that the well constitutes a menace to oil, gas, or freshwater strata.” However, the next paragraph states the RRC does not believe there is evidence this is the case.

“Water with high TDS is flowing from the ground surface and creating a condition that threatens to degrade the quality of the Cenozoic Pecos Valley Alluvium aquifer,” site remediation manager Peter Pope wrote. “Plugging the well would remove the source of the lake water, and evaporation would further abate the process of infiltration.”

The report also included an addendum on elevated levels of hydrogen sulfide. This was added after a Straub Corporation report for Middle Pecos Groundwater Conservation District showed extreme levels of H2S at the lake.

The MPGCD results showed H2S levels reaching up to 14,000 ppm, far exceeding legal and lethal limits.

At the time, the RRC announced they had not received any of this information and said its inspectors had not detected a significant amount of H2S at the site, despite wearing H2S monitors.

In response to the MPGCD report, the RRC hired Etech Environmental & Safety Solutions to conduct gas sampling at the lake.

Results of the Etech sampling showed elevated levels of the H2S, although nowhere near the levels claimed by the MPGCD.

Sixty feet from the Sloan Blair #1 wellhead, inspectors’ H2S monitors went off to readings of 14.9 ppm, higher than the 10 ppm maximum recommended exposure by OSHA. According to OSHA, humans may experience nausea and airway problems once exposed to 2-5 ppm for at least 10 minutes.

Etech inspectors then retreated to put on self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) equipment. While attempting to get closer to the well, inspectors registered H2S levels of 110 ppm at the wellhead, a level that can cause death after a significant length of exposure.

When inspectors finally conducted air sampling, results showed up to 25 ppm H2S within five feet of the wellhead.

At the same time, the RRC contracted Sport Environmental Services (SES) to perform water sampling of Lake Boehmer, which determined water levels of 57.5 ppm H2S at the wellhead.