Brewer Lake in Conway County is the main drinking water supply for about 20,000 people in Conway County as well as another 60,000 people in and around the City of Conway in Faulkner County. The lake's surface covers 1,165 acres and is about 35-40 feet deep. Brewer Lake is also a popular fishing spot and the 1,200 acre Cypress Creek Wildlife Management Area surrounding it attracts hunters for many types of game animals. The lake was completed after the damming of Cypress Creek in 1983 by the Army Corps of Engineers. That same year operation and maintenance cost of the lake was turned over to Conway Corporation who still operates and maintains the lake today. Conway Corporation is a non-profit company that supplies electric, water, wastewater, cable television, internet, and telephone services in Conway. The lake is owned by the City of Conway, but the mineral rights under the lake are privately owned.
The following is a timeline of events concerning natural gas activity near Brewer Lake.
These well logging tools are cylindrical metal containers that hold the radioactive isotope Cesium-137. This is a very dangerous type of radioactive material. The tools that this material is contained in are designed to keep the radiation inside the device, however if the device is damaged the radioactive material can be dispersed into the ground. Any groundwater or natural gas that comes near this material can become radioactive. This can be extremely dangerous for people living and visiting the lake as well as people who get their water from the lake. If any radioactive groundwater or natural gas makes its way to the surface and into the lake it could lead to serious short and long term health problems from exposure to it. Exposure can come from direct contact, drinking, or breathing in radioactive material.
-On March 20th after trying for 5 days to free the well logging tools Chesapeake decided to abandon their attempts and put a cement plug in the hole to isolate the tools from the rest of the hole. This abandonment was approved by the AOGC. The cement plug was 600 feet thick. The lost radioactive device was never reported to the public by Chesapeake, Conway Corporation, the City of Conway, the AOGC, or the Health Department. The incident was also never reported by any media outlet and our organization was unaware of it until about 2-3 months after it happened.
-On March 21st, the day after Chesapeake and the AOGC decided to leave the radioactive device in the hole, the first media report is aired concerning the Lyle Wilson well and Brewer Lake. Again, the media never reported any information about the lost radioactive device.
Also that same day, Conway City Council Alderman Mark Vaught emailed the director of the AOGC Larry Bengal. Mr. Vaught expressed his concerns with the industry activity near the drinking supply for Conway and asked for more information about the Lyle Wilson well.
-On March 22nd Larry Bengal replies to Mark Vaught. He starts by saying,
"Thank you for your inquiry to the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission (AOGC). I understand the concerns expressed in your email, and I want to answer those concerns within the context of the Commission's authority. The AOGC's authority to regulate is granted, and in turn, limited by the statutes passed by the legislature. The AOGC does not have authority to regulate issues beyond its statutory authority. The issuance of a drilling permit is an administrative function of the AOGC. A party is granted a drilling permit if they have a legal right to drill the well, and have complied with the AOGC Rules and Regulations regarding the requirements of issuance. Such is the case with the Chesapeake Wilson 7-15 1-9H10 well. The applicant, Chesapeake, has a lease or ownership of minerals which grants a legal right to explore for, and produce minerals in the area of the Wilson 7-15 1-9H10 well. A copy of the AOGC Rules and Regulations can be found through the AOGC website."
Mr. Bengal is clearly saying that the AOGC's authority is limited by the legislature and that the AOGC had no authority to stop the drilling of this well. The AOGC website lists one of their regulatory functions as "authority to plug and abandon wells to insure protection of fresh water zones and production intervals." -The same day, March 22nd, as more media outlets began to report on the issue, Chesapeake Energy released a statement concerning the well. It said, "The vertical depth of the well near Brewer Lake is 9,785 feet, or almost 2 miles deep...there are over 9,000 feet of protective rock barriers that separate and isolate the shale from the surface." The statement also said, "We consulted with the management of Conway Corporation several months ago in anticipation of any concerns and are confident that the measures we have in place will continue to satisfy our mutual interests." Conway Corporation had never notified the public nor its water customers of this activity near the lake. Another media article quotes the CEO of Conway Corporation Richie Arnold saying, "the depth of the well site that is drilling near the lake is about 9,000 feet." Mr. Richie also says, "We are more concerned about spills and things like that. However, any of the runoff at the well site has been designed so it would be below the lake. That was part of the observation we made when we went and looked at the proposed site." Finally he says, “We didn’t understand the risk of what would happen when a pond overflowed, and Chesapeake told us they would do a closed system instead." Other media reports show residents with concern. This contradicts all the paperwork on file with the AOGC for this well which shows the depth of the horizontal portion of the well at about 6,800 feet deep. This is about 3,000 feet closer to the surface than Chesapeake reported in their statement to the public as well as Mr. Arnold's statement about the well depth. Mr. Richie also says that the site was selected and designed so any loss of fluids would run down below the lake. Topographic maps of the area (page 3) clearly show that any fluids lost at the well would flow rapidly down a hill and directly into the main body of the lake. -The following day on March 23rd, the State House Agriculture, Forestry, and Economic Development Committee reviewed and voted on a series of bills regarding natural gas production. One of these bills would have not allowed oil and gas wells within 2,500 feet of a water supply. The Lyle Wilson well would have fallen in this category. AOGC Director Larry Bengal answered questions from the Committee members concerning this bill. Representative asked Mr. Bengal concerning the 2,500 foot setback rule, "Don't you (AOGC) already have that authority (to not allow wells within 2,500 feet of a water supply)." Mr. Bengal replies, "Yes we would have the authority to establish any setback that would be necessary, or the rules to establish that." (1:06:50 mark of video) Although Mr. Bengal is correct here, this contradicts what he told Conway City Council Alderman Mark Vaught the day before as described above. He told Mr. Vaught that the AOGC's authority was limited by the legislature and that the AOGC could do nothing to stop the Lyle Wilson well from being drilled and fracked near Brewer Lake. The next day he told the legislature that there was no need to legislate a 2,500 foot setback from water supplies because the AOGC already had the authority to do so. The first bill voted on of six that day in the Agri. Committee was voted down. The five remaining bills were sent to interim study. Another issue of concern near Brewer Lake is the use of "dust suppressants" on county roads in the area. Companies are permitted by the Conway County Judge Jimmy Hart (501-354-9640 / firstname.lastname@example.org) and ADEQ to spray these dust suppressants on the roads where it can be washed off into Cypress Creek and Brewer Lake during rain. This can harm water quality in the area as these suppressants can contain high amounts of chlorides, heavy metals, other sediment, "proprietary materials", and if regulations are not followed, drilling and fracking chemicals. Click here for more info about these dust suppressants.
Map of Brewer Lake and Cypress Creek Wildlife Management Area
Brewer Lake and area natural gas wells (red, yellow, and green dots)
Lyle Wilson 7-15 (permit #44055) approximately 1,700 feet from the shore of Brewer Lake
Diagram showing location of well hole that travels under Brewer Lake
Placcard that Chesapeake was required to place on the well-head of the Lyle Wilson 7-15 well #44055
Dust suppressant sprayed in paved parking lot near Cypress Creek (upstream from Brewer Lake)
Closer look at Brewer Lake and natural gas wells (yellow and green dots)
Dust suppressant on road near Brewer Lake
Inadequate sediment control measures near Brewer Lake
Pipeline construction near Brewer Lake