Soil samples being taken at Petro Harvester oil disposal well in Laurel

On Tuesday, Jan. 25, environmental drilling crews were on site at the Petro Harvester oil...
On Tuesday, Jan. 25, environmental drilling crews were on site at the Petro Harvester oil disposal well located on Wansley Road in Laurel.(WDAM)
Published: Jan. 25, 2022 at 5:20 PM CST
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LAUREL, Miss. (WDAM) - On Tuesday, Jan. 25, environmental drilling crews were on-site at the Petro Harvester oil disposal well located on Wansley Road in Laurel.

Over a three-day period, more soil samples will be taken, and two groundwater monitoring wells will be installed.

At issue is two lawsuits making their way through the courts involving alleged illegal dumping and disposal of oil field petroleum waste material at the site.

Deidra Baucum first filed a lawsuit in 2014 against Petro Harvester Operating Company, the owner of the disposal well, alleging in court documents that unsafe practices of the company site contaminated the family’s adjacent property and made Deidra sick.

The Baucums live on Wansley Road in Laurel, and the well site is less than 1/4 mile from their home.

In 2016, Deidra Baucum filed a second complaint in Jones County Circuit Court involving her cancer diagnosis. Doctors diagnosed her with esophageal cancer. Most of her esophagus and part of her stomach have been removed.

In court filings from September, Petro Harvester states, “the well is an extremely safe disposal well” and that " the well has mechanical integrity and poses no risk whatsoever to the environment.”

The legal battle between the Baucum family and the companies listed in the lawsuits has been in and out of court over the last several years.

Back in August, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled the two lawsuits filed should move forward in Jones County Circuit Court.

The companies named in the lawsuits argued these cases needed to go before the Mississippi Oil and Gas Board first to exhaust all administrative remedies. However, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the lawsuits can continue in circuit court.

The decision means Deidre Baucum’s property damage claim and personal injury claim could be heard in front of a Jones County jury at some point in 2022.

According to court documents, this oil disposal well owned and operated by Petro Harvester in Laurel was drilled back in 1992 by another company. It was later “plugged and abandoned as a non-commercial well.”

In 1996, the well was converted into a disposal well. A class II disposal well is commonly used in the oil and gas industry.

According to the EPA, these wells house fluids, like brine water that are used when drilling. Here’s the description of this type of well explained on the EPA’s website:

During oil and gas extraction, brines are also brought to the surface. Brines are separated from hydrocarbons at the surface and reinjected into the same or similar underground formations for disposal. Wastewater from hydraulic fracturing activities can also be injected into Class II wells. Class II disposal wells make up about 20 percent of the total number of Class II wells.

According to background information outlined in the Mississippi Supreme Court’s ruling on Aug. 5, an examination was requested of the well site back in 2014.

In a letter sent to the Mississippi State Oil and Gas Board dated Oct. 28, 2021, attorney Michael D. Simmons attached an affidavit in which he argues, “proves that the Well site is contaminated.”

The affidavit is from a geologist hired out of Jackson, Miss. to conduct environmental testing on the land owned by Deidre Baucum. The affidavit states the geologist “supervised the installation of a groundwater monitoring well, AP-1.”

It was installed 100 feet from the Petro Harvester disposal well site in question.

The geologist said samples were extracted from the groundwater in a zone 30 feet under the land surface.

According to the affidavit, concerning substances were found, including Radium-228 at 12 times the EPA’s maximum contamination level and Benzene concentration at three times the maximum contamination level.

The geologist ends his affidavit by stating, “...significant levels of hazardous substances and oil-field wastes were likely released...”

WDAM will follow this story and report on any updates as they develop.

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