Nebraska oil and gas board cleared in meetings laws dispute

SIDNEY, Neb. (AP) - A special investigator said the Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission didn’t violate the state’s open meetings law when it met last month to consider a proposed disposal well in Sioux County for wastewater from oil and gas exploration and production.

Two environmental groups, Bold Nebraska and the Nebraska Sierra Club, filed a complaint on April 7 that alleged the commission didn’t follow its own meeting rules and state law. Among their complaints, the groups said the commission announced before the March 24 hearing that testimony would be limited to only parties living within a half mile of the proposed disposal well.

According to the Lincoln Journal Star, special investigator William Austin said that because the meeting met the legal definition of a meeting for a contested case and was quasi-judicial, the state’s Open Meetings Act did not apply. Austin said in a letter to both groups that the meeting was subject to the Administrative Procedure Act and told them he wasn’t authorized to investigate whether there were any violations of the procedure act.

Nebraska Sierra Club spokesman Ken Winston told the Journal Star that Austin’s conclusions were bureaucratic and ran “counter to the purpose of the Open Meetings Act, which is intended to encourage people to participate in government.”

The hearing was on a request by Terex Energy Corp, of Broomfield, Colorado, for permission to truck salty groundwater and chemical-laden fracking wastewater that result from oil searches and production to a ranch north of Mitchell. As much as 10,000 barrels a day of the water would be injected into an old oil well on the ranch.

The commission did allow public comment before the March 24 formal hearing on the proposal but stated that none of the comment would be included in the official hearing record or considered by the commission in making its decision. At a special meeting last week the commission approved the proposal.

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