With heightened interest and increased activity in domestic oil production, rural landowners are being encouraged to consider the potential for negative impacts on their land and on agricultural production before engaging in contracts involving the oil and gas industry.

In two separate reports from Texas Agrilife Extension Service this month, oil professionals and landowners are cautioned to understand the relationship between agriculture and oil exploration and the possible negative and positive impacts on the land.

In one report, oil and gas professionals are being encouraged to attend an Extension Service stewardship conference in the oil rich Permian Basin on the potential for negative impacts on rangeland, and the second report advises rural landowners to be aware of the benefits and dangers of contracting with the oil and gas industry to allow drilling fluids, including muds and liquids, to be applied to rural fields in South Texas and other areas across the state where oil fracking is underway. 

According to Sam Feagley, AgriLife Extension state soil environmental specialist, waste by-products including muds and mixtures used in oil drilling can be applied to rural property safely, but landowners need to understand the potential for danger by fully understanding the nature of the fluids and solids that will be dumped on fields and the safeguards that should be taken to minimize the impact to agricultural production and land damage.

“There are numerous potential issues associated with land application of these materials,” Feagley said. “If done properly on soils that can accept these types of materials, no detrimental effects should occur, however, if not applied properly, then numerous detrimental effects can occur that can take many years to remediate."

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Feagley was interviewed by AgriLife Extension Service writer Kay Ledbettter in a special report.

“I know money talks, and I’ve been told they will offer anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 per acre to land-apply these materials in Texas,” Feagley added. “But we have a legacy and responsibility for our soils.”

The report says drilling fluids and muds come from oil and gas exploration, and it is recycled until it cannot be used anymore. But then it needs to be disposed of, and operators turn to landowners who will allow the “sludge” to be spread across their acreage.