Holdenville Good fences have been said to make good neighbors. But commercial soil farms tend to do the opposite.

A feud has developed between Doug "Hump" Humphreys and some of his neighbors after he put in a soil farm, known as Maverick Energy Services, two years ago.

The land is adjacent to the Olivo cattle farm, which has been operating for decades about four miles east of Holdenville.

Soil farms feature pits where drilling fluid waste is stored and then later applied to the land. The waste had historically been disposed of in commercial pits.

Humphreys said he's given the Oklahoma Corporation Commission the key to his gate to inspect his operation any time.

"We do know what's in it," Humphreys said. "That's why we test it and take it to a lab." The possible chemical build-up is what worries cattle ranchers.

"We don't know the long-term affect on livestock," said John Stirman, a cattle rancher who lives nea rby. Neighbors are also concerned about water contamination and land spoilage over time.

"There's nothing 'farm' about it," said cattle rancher Donald Hardwick. "It's just one big slush pit." The Corporation Commission regulates eight soil farms, and two pending applications in Haskell and Love counties have received protests.

The farms have become popular in the last 10 years with the introduction of horizontal wells to increase drilling activity, and hydraulic fracturing to generate drilling mud, said Tim Baker, manager of pollution abatement for the Corporation Commission's oil and gas conservation division.

"There's been a movement to get away from burying and try to do something more useful. Land application has been shown to be the most useful," Baker said.
One-time land application, however, has been around almost 20 years, Baker said.

Landowners are compensated by oil and gas companies to allow the spreading of drilling fluids on their fa rm land. Baker said the Corporation Commission has processed 15,507 permits during the past 15 years.

"They make it worth the landowners while to do that. If it were harmful, they wouldn't do it," Baker said.

Drilling fluids, also called water-based mud, is made up of water and bentonite, a clay used in the drilling process containing varying levels of salt, heavy metals and other chemical components.

"The issue of metal and what's in the mud has been studied several times," Baker said. "Almost invariably the only thing that is a threat to the waters of the state is the salt content."

Baker said soil farms are required to monitor the groundwater and collect soil samples, which are tested at state-approved labs. Most commercial soil farms reach their load limit for salts in five or six years, but it depends on how much business a soil farm gets, he said.

"As long as we are ensuring it doesn't get high enough that it leaches into the water table, w e've had a very good track record with these types of operations," Baker said.

Cattle rancher Scott Olivo has opposed his neighbor's soil farm, saying everything possible should be done to protect the water.

"If there's nothing wrong with it, then why are (oil and gas companies) paying to get rid of it?" Olivo said.

The city of Holdenville was initially against the Humphreys' soil farm. But it stepped back after a section of land located closer to Holdenville Lake, the city's water source, was taken out of the proposal.

Residents fought the Humphreys' application but lost after two appeals.

Humphreys said he's being harassed by neighbors, who call the Corporation Commission and Environmental Protection Agency with frivolous complaints.

Humphreys has a March 5 report from the Corporation Commission giving his operation a clean bill of health.

"It's getting kind of old," Humphreys said. "I don't feel like we're the bad guy."

The E PA didn't find a complaint filed by Claudia Olivo frivolous. She reported strange glistening spots in the water on family property after a hard rain.

The agency issued a cease-and-desist order against the soil farm for violations of the Clean Water Act in May 2009.

An EPA inspector found an unauthorized discharge of "drilling mud" into Elm Creek, which runs through the Olivo property.

EPA spokeswoman Carmen Assunto said that Maverick flushed the creek with fresh water and was allowed to reopen in July.

The discharge was not oil-based, she said.

Humphreys said he should have appealed based on an inadequate investigation by the EPA inspector. "That cost me a lot of money," he said, noting that it also put a black mark on his credit report.

Humphreys said he makes sure the drilling fluids are not oil-based before he accepts a truckload. If it does, it goes to the landfill or another facility, he said.

"We turn down a lot of loads," he said.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.