The Arkansas Public Policy Panel, a statewide progressive group, has released a report analyzing state inspection records of natural gas drilling and production sites that are compiled by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality. The report says that violations of the state’s environmental regulations are frequent, that companies operating in the Fayetteville Shale are not following their own best management practices and that ADEQ is doing little to make sure corrective actions are taken by the violators.
APPP looked at 538 inspection forms filed by ADEQ between July 2006 and August 2010. Violations were found in more than half of those inspections, for a total of 544 individual violations (anything from overflowing waste pits to unauthorized discharge into waters of the state).
Bill Kopsky, executive director of APPP, says the report is timely. A joint legislative committee on agriculture, forestry and economic development will discuss a number of bills dealing with regulating the natural gas industry at a hearing on Sept. 13. The bills were deferred to interim study during the legislative session.
Get more on the jump, including comments from Kopsky and ADEQ Executive Director Teresa Marks.
“We’re going to have a bunch of testimony on why we need these bills,” Kopsky says. “I’m sure the industry will maintain the steady drumbeat that we don’t. They have said that they don’t need state regulations because they’re following best management practices that are more strict. Their BMPs are great, if they would follow them. This report shows they’re not even following the weak laws that Arkansas does have. So they’re surely not following their BMPs and the state seems to be doing very little about that.”
Teresa Marks, executive director of ADEQ, says her agency has been doing a better job at inspecting well sites thanks to the addition of more inspectors. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission provided funding for four additional inspectors in 2010. ADEQ now has a total of 21. As of July, there were 3,427 permitted gas wells in the state, according to the APPP report.
“With our increased personnel, we’re doing significantly more inspections,” Marks says. “When the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission goes out on inspections, they’re looking for violations as well. We can assure Arkansans that we are looking into the practices of the companies, we are looking into what takes place on these drilling pads and how it affects the waters of the state. We’re a little bit hampered by the regulatory authority on the federal level, where there are some exemptions for oil and gas drilling activities. We’ve tried to fill that gap by creating our own state permits. Certainly when you have development there are going to be pollution concerns. There are going to be impacts to the environment. But we are doing our best to make sure those impacts are short lived and as minimal as possible.”
Marks says although the agency does not take a position on any of the bills under interim study, ADEQ officials will be on hand for the Sept. 13 hearing to answer questions and provide information to legislators.