Living within the bounds of the Trinity Aquifer is a simple fact of life for Erath County residents. Protecting the area water supply has become a second job for some who have made it their duty to safeguard the finite resource.
Many of the watchdogs of the water source stood proud and strong last year when N. Barba Enterprises stood before the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) in reference to a salt water injection disposal well being proposed for the Huckabay area.
The battle cry was sounded, “Not within the boundaries of our aquifer.”
The cry was hear loud and far and in the end, N. Barba withdrew the application and the water warriors celebrated a victory.
Now, almost a year later, N. Barba is speaking out.
Who is N. Barba Enterprises? Although the name may sound like big money and big business, N. Barba is one woman, Nikki Barba, and she has decided to tell her side of the story.
Barba is no stranger to Erath County and has lived in Huckabay for 11 years. A land and well owner herself, Barba lives on 12.6 acres and shows horses. Everything she has, she’s worked for. And at least that small piece of the county is all hers.
“I don’t think they (the protesters) understand, or have ever understood, my position,” Barba said. “I was only searching for a sense of security, a back up plan and a future.
“I am a dental hygienist and I rely on my hands every day. If something ever happened, if I was in an accident, if I lost use of my hands, what would I do?”
Those simple questions that many working class Americans ask themselves everyday led Barba on a search to find her plan for the future.
In addition to her full-time work as a dental hygienist, Barba spent time working in insurance to supplement her income. It was through that second job that she began thinking about the opportunities arising from the Barnett Shale boom.
A co-worker asked if she had ever considered a salt-water disposal well.
Barba said she was not sure what a salt-water disposal well was so she began to research.
“The first questions I asked were: ‘Will it harm the water, my land, or me?’” Barba said. “I own show horses. Would an injection well threaten the safety of my animals, my investments or my future?”
Wanting to learn more, Barba turned to professionals in the field and hired an engineer, lawyer, and a firm that knows the ins-and-outs of the oil and gas industry. What she learned was that the positives seemed to outweigh the negatives.
“I could see that there were opportunities for revenue, not just personal but for the county as a whole,” Barba said. “I saw that just like the production wells, the disposal wells could bring more jobs to the area. The oil and gas industry is going to continue to grow and so will the need for disposal wells. Will we just continue to send the business, the money and the jobs to other places?”
Following hours of research, Barba decided to take the next step and apply for the permit, which would allow her to set up a disposal site on her property.
Barba had to notify her neighbors that she had applied for the permit, post notices in the local newspaper, and complete a mountain of paperwork.
As the notices were received, protestors began speaking out against the proposed well. With opposition came the need for a hearing with the RRC and more legal fees.
Barba said she paid close attention to the points made by the other side.
“They were worried about polluting the groundwater and contamination of the aquifer,” Barba said. “What the injection well would be depositing into the ground has already come up though the ground. The safeguards and the protections that would be installed would offer protection far into the future.
I also considered the impact that transporting the waste would have on the environment. Transferring the waste to another location would require burning fuel. Are they trying to say that diesel doesn’t pollute and harm the environment?”
Barba made a huge investment of both time and money, and when it was all said and done, it was not enough. She said that looking back, she was just a small fish in a big sea.
“I finally decided to give up the fight,” Barba said. “Why spend another $30,000 when they were going to deny my application anyway?”
Barba and her team decided that the best choice was to withdraw the application and so they did. “I chose to withdraw the application with prejudice,” Barba said. “That means that I will never be able to apply for such a site on my property again. I am confident that I would have been denied based on my lack of experience alone.”
Meanwhile, Barba has moved on with her life, but still struggles with the effects of the experience. Neighbors who once greeted her with a wave and a smile no longer do.
Barba’s search for that sense of security and back-up plan continues.
“I learned a lot from the experience,” Barba said. “I hope that others might learn something from it as well. I hope in the future, people will consider both sides of the story.”