OKLAHOMA CITY — Jack Klinger has lived on the banks of Tonkawa’s Salt Fork River for nearly all of his 76 years, but never has he seen his property’s groundwater so contaminated, he said.

Klinger blames the contamination — which he said forces him to pay for shipped-in drinking water — on a salt spill at a nearby oil and gas field disposal well.

Klinger, a farmer, said the salt content in his wells has increased so dramatically in recent months that a Stillwater scientist told him it wasn’t safe to put on his lawn.

“We’ve never had water problems,” Klinger said following a hearing at the Capitol this week. “It’s a mess. I’m still contending it’s oil-related.”

The impact of fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, on groundwater was the topic of a Tuesday hearing led by Rep. Steve Vaughan, R-Ponca City, which Klinger attended and where he briefly spoke.

Vaughan said he didn’t want to point fingers but said he’s heard from several constituents who are concerned that fracking or disposal wells might affect the safety of groundwater.

The state has 23 major groundwater aquifers, which store 320 million acre-feet of water. Oklahomans consume about 2 million acre-feet per year, said J.D. Strong, executive director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board.

The state's biggest consumer is the agriculture industry, which receives about 75 percent of groundwater permits issued. Just under 3 percent of permits are used by the oil and gas industry.

Vaughan noted the oil and gas industry comprises about one-third of the state’s economy, and he’s not asking that the state get rid of the industry.

“If there’s a problem out there, let’s address it,” he said of his study of this issue.

Steve Everley, a spokesman with the Independent Petroleum Association of America, said there is no problem.

Everley came in from Washington D.C. to speak on behalf of petroleum producers at the hearing, but in the end didn’t get an opportunity. No current members of the industry spoke.

In an interview after the hearing, Everley said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy and state regulatory agencies have found no evidence that fracking contaminates groundwater.

He said there are processes in place that regulate the industry and assess its risks.

“That’s not to say that there are other parts of oil and gas development that don’t pose a higher risk,” he said. “There are surface spills. There have been casing problems. These are isolated incidents. These are not an inherent threat.”

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