Citizens and community leaders of the Ada area, with direction from the Ada Jobs Foundation and Ada Area Chamber of Commerce, have been conducting a series of meetings to develop a vision of what Ada should be in the future and how to get there. These discussions include many issues such as education, jobs, housing, shopping, business, crime, poverty, beautification and community infrastructure.
None of these objectives can be achieved without a safe, reliable water supply. Most of you have probably read some articles in this newspaper extoling the virtues of Ada’s water supply — Byrd’s Mill Spring and the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer. The Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer is unique in that it has been designated a Sole Source Aquifer by the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, the only such water supply in Oklahoma with that designation. Specifically, that means that the aquifer is the sole or principle source of drinking water in Johnston, Murray and Pontotoc counties, and, if contaminated, would create a significant hazard to public health.
In 2003, the Oklahoma Legislature passed Senate Bill 288, which designated the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer as a Sensitive Sole Source Ground Water Basin, the only such designation, so far, in Oklahoma. About a year ago, the Ada City Council learned of two petroleum pipelines that cross about 21 miles of the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer, much of that across Byrd’s Mill Spring recharge basin and 1.3 miles of city property. They pass within a mile upgradient of Byrd’s Mill Spring and a few hundred feet of Ada’s three water supply wells. These pipelines (one, Sterling I, is 8 inches in diameter and constructed in 1981, and the other, Sterling II, is 12 inches in diameter and constructed in 1992), traverse about 549 miles from Medford, Okla., to Mont Belvieu, Texas. Now ONEOK, the current owner of these pipelines, plans Sterling III, a 16-inch pipeline that will carry another 11 million gallons per day of liquid natural gas mixtures comprised of ethane, propane, butane, isobutene, propylene, gasoline and raw feed.
The Arbuckle-Simpson formation consists of fractured limestone with numerous solution channels, fractures, sinkholes, and hundreds of active or abandoned wells. A pipeline leak in the Byrd’s Mill Spring recharge basin could contaminate Ada’s water supply for weeks, months, or years before it is detected, and could render the spring and/or wells permanently unsafe for a drinking water supply. ONEOK notes that the material being pumped through the Sterling 111 pipeline is only 0.075 percent benzene, which they consider to be the most hazardous component. However, if pipeline pumps continued to operate for just five minutes after detecting a pressure drop, over 800,000 gallons of natural gas liquids would be released, which would contain over 600 gallons of benzene. This amount of benzene could contaminate over 600,000,000 gallons of water above drinking water standards. This doesn’t consider the material in the pipelines that continues to flow by gravity after pumps are shut off or the flow of Sterling 1 and 11.
These concerns have been made known to ONEOK by the City of Ada for at least a year, and one meeting between city and ONEOK representatives was held on Feb. 7, 2013. However, ONEOK admittedly has not considered any other route, has offered a very inadequate environmental assessment, has offered no special detection and protection measures in the area of Ada’s water supply, and has not offered a plan to supply drinking water to the 30,000 citizens of Ada and the surrounding communities should Byrd’s Mill Spring and/or Ada’s water supply wells become contaminated. Nor have they provided similar information and plans concerning Durant’s water supply if Blue River becomes contaminated.
We all know that we have to have energy and we have to have pipelines to carry that source of energy; however, we cannot afford to sacrifice one of the most high-quality water supplies in the country for the most convenient and cheapest route. All pipelines eventually leak sometime, somewhere. Steel rusts, not all of the millions of welds are perfect, and earthquakes happen. Otherwise, ONEOK would not be flying airplanes over the pipeline route every couple of weeks to look for “brown spots” that indicate leakage. By the time a “brown spot” appears on the surface in the area of Byrd’s Mill Spring, it will be too late for citizens of the Ada area.
Apparently, there are no state or federal agencies that regulate pipelines, and cities and other landowners have little or no legal options to control pipeline activities on their property. ONEOK argues that the chances of a leak are low and that, even if a leak occurred, the chances of contamination reaching the water table are also low. The former may be true. The latter is absolutely not true in this type of geology. The citizens that depend on Ada for safe drinking water do not get second chances. If we are to make the trade-off that takes this chance, these citizens deserve a publicly-explained plan that uses state-of-the-art technology to construct the pipeline, detect leaks, shut-off flow, and a plan for an alternate water supply and who pays for the enormous costs associated with such a disaster.