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Jul 10, 2012 8:56 AM by AP

Oilfield waste site plans upset some in Houma

HOUMA, La. (AP) - Houma residents who live and work near the site of a proposed oilfield waste disposal well say they're upset about a court ruling that allows the project to move forward.

A judge ruled Friday that a state permit allowing Vanguard Environmental to drill the well supersedes local laws preventing such drilling within a mile of residences or businesses. State law only requires the well to be 500 feet away.

Terrebonne Parish officials said they plan to appeal the decision.

The Courier reports that Vanguard's management has repeatedly declined comment, but the company's lawyers said in court Friday that the facility doesn't pose a risk to nearby residents and the well will follow all state guidelines for environmental safety.

Those lawyers also said Vanguard wants to start building the facility "as soon as possible."

The well would be less than a mile away from St. Gregory Elementary and Legion Park Middle schools. It would inject wastewater under high pressure into sand formations about 4,000 feet underground. That wastewater consists mostly of concentrated saltwater left over from oil production but can also include much smaller amounts of toxic chemicals or substances known to cause cancer.

Meanwhile, complaints in local media and social websites continue.

Nolan Bergeron is an environmental advocate who helped create the parish's one-mile buffer zone law in the early '80s. He's worried about the precedent the judge's decision sets.

"It used to be that people would just dig holes and dump their waste in it, and we worked very hard to create an ordinance that would make things safer," Bergeron said. "To water that ordinance down to 500 feet? I don't think that's right."

One resident said she is not as nervous about the facility as she once was.

"When we first started hearing about it, it was very unsettling because we didn't know anything about it," said Nicole Lirette, who lives near the proposed site. "But as I've researched it, I'm starting to relax a little bit at least."

When Lirette, who owns Landscaping by Nicole, first heard about the proposed well, she was outraged.

"Anytime you start pumping waste, it's a little concerning," she said. "I want to protect my kids from being polluted, obviously, so this scared me."

As Lirette researched the well, however, she found some - but not all - of her worries lightened.

"When you look at it, it's a lot safer than I first thought. It's not something to freak out about, necessarily," she said. "It's thousands of feet underground and far away from our water sources."

Still, Lirette said she's nervous.

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