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April 12, 2014

Drilling operation shows policy gap

NORMAN — While Norman residents are being encouraged to use rain barrels, a Texas oil and gas company is pumping thousands of gallons of treated drinking water into the ground.

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission controls permits for drilling, including the hydraulic fracturing on Franklin Road near the Moore Norman Technology Center by Finley Resources Inc. The city of Norman issues commercial use water meters, however, and that has some residents stirred up. Citing the current odd/even mandatory water rationing, residents are asking why Finley Resources is being allowed to connect to a city hydrant with a rented meter.

Finley has withdrawn an average of about 17,000 gallons of potable water a day since March 12. As of Wednesday, Finley had used 432,000 gallons of water for the operation, according to city records.

“We rent to everybody from Silver Star who puts in roads, to Ideal Homes who puts in houses, to Girl Scout troops that have car washes,” said Norman Utilities Director Ken Komiske. “We cannot discriminate who we sell water to.”

Komiske said as commercial users go, Finley’s 17,000 gallon a day average is not an excessive amount. While the University of Oklahoma with its multiple buildings is probably the city’s top water customer, discounting OU still leaves several large users. Top commercial users go through anywhere from 300,000 gallons a day to 1 million gallons of water a day, Komiske said.

Regular commercial customers pay the city $2.10 per 1,000 gallons used and a $4 fee per month.

By contrast, temporary permits like Finley’s require a $1,000 returnable meter deposit, a $25 monthly rental fee and a higher rate of $2.50 per 1,000 gallons of water used.

Environmentally concerned residents say using potable water in fracking takes it out of the water supply chain. The process is typically done by mixing water with sand and chemicals and then injecting it into the ground. It’s a form of mining for natural gas or petroleum under the regulation of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission through the Oil and Gas Conservation Division.

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