The Arkansas Public Policy Panel has released an analysis of state inspection records of natural gas drilling and production sites compiled by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality showing frequent violations of state environmental regulations, 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.
The panel 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, from overflowing waste pits to unauthorized discharge into state waters.
Panel director Bill Kopsky 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.
"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. This report shows they're not even following the weak laws that Arkansas does have."
ADEQ Director Teresa Marks 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. ADEQ now has a total of 21. As of July, there were 3,427 permitted gas wells in the state, according to the panel 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. 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."
ADEQ officials will be on hand for the Sept. 13 hearing to answer questions and provide information to legislators.