Corey Paul | Odessa American
A real estate developer and Devon Energy continue to fight about whose responsibility it is to bury flow lines carrying poisonous Hydrogen Sulfide gas on a south Odessa plot of land, more than a month after a temporary order by Ector County judge that had prevented work near the lines expired.
But in the meantime, no one is fixing the problem that both the developer and the oil company argue poses a serious risk of death to nearby workers.
Workers drive over the flow lines on the roughly 60 acres of land near the Ector County Detention Center. The land is connected to three oil wells on the property, which sit past Interstate 20 and between Andrews Highway and South Dixie Boulevard.
In May, Devon Energy sued Mercer Holdings Corp., a real estate business run by Richard Splain of Connecticut that owns the land. Splain said he “chases oil booms around the country,” developing land in Colorado and North Dakota before scooping up 700 acres of land off Andrews Highway last year.
Devon’s and Splain’s conflict lies in a regulatory gray area, where “Texas law does not impose responsibility on anyone for burying flow lines to accommodate surface development,” according to a statement from Gaye McElwain, a Texas Railroad Commission spokesperson who cited the agency’s lawyers.
Sometimes an oil lease might establish responsibility. Sometimes the mineral and surface owners might work out a deal. But they do not have to, according to the state regulator.
On Splain’s land, a handful of oilfield-related companies have purchased about 300 acres close by. This land is on the 640 acres where Splain said another company, Concho Resources, operates and buries their own flow lines without prompting.
Splain said he tries to push people on the land away from the roads running near Devon’s flow lines, but among the 500 or so workers who are on the land any given day, some drive atop the lines.
Activity near flow lines should also pick up soon as a transportation company builds its facility on an acre less than 100 feet from some of the lines, Splain said.
“Eventually one is going to break and somebody is going to freaking die,” Splain said.
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