Fearing contamination of their drinking water wells, residents in New Harmony, Ind., have opposed a proposal by an oil company that wants to pump a saltwater byproduct back into the ground, reports a recent article in theEvansville Courier & Press. The newspaper says that at a recent meeting, more than two dozen neighbors expressed their disapproval of the company's plan to inject brine, which is a saltwater byproduct of oil drilling, back into a well at one particular site.

Petco Petroleum Corp., which is based in Hinsdale, Ill., has requested a permit from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Oil and Gas Division to inject up to 1,000 gallons a day of brine into a specially sealed well. Company officials say the well would serve as a backup to a brine well already on site, the article reports.

DNR officials will decide if the permit will be issued after reviewing public comments. Division assistant director Mike Nickolaus said, "Obviously there is no 100 percent guarantee in any of the (well) designs, but the characteristics of the well should not present any hazards to ground wells."

Some residents don't care how low the risk is - they are concerned that there is one at all. Mary Smith, who owns the property where the well is located, explained her dismay to the paper, saying, "I'm opposed to this very much. In the past when they dump this junk or saltwater ¿in some locations, it has ruined water wells." Smith has hired an attorney to assist her in this matter.

Petco has responded by saying that the process is safe, but residents don't fully understand it and are therefore needlessly alarmed. Petco President Jay Bergman said, "While their hearts are in the right place, they don't understand that the contamination of fresh water is virtually impossible with this situation." He claims, "It's virtually 100 percent fool-proof."

According to the coordinator of the Southwestern Indiana Brine Coalition, a group organized to help locate and dispose of brine deposits from old well sites, Petco's proposal is the preferred option for disposal. Coordinator Larry Hazelwood told the newspaper that it amounts to "putting it back where it came from."

The DNR has said it will take all information and opinions into account. "With the concern expressed, these won't be automatically issued. They won't be issued if there is a threat to the environment," spokesman Russ Grunden explained to the paper.