When The Box, long one of Little Rock's finest purveyors of delicious greasy burgers, closed shop on South Main Street in April of this year to make room for a USA Drug, owner Kelly Joiner promised to reopen in the old Wooley Electric Supply building on the corner of Seventh and Ringo by June. But since then there's been no obvious progress.
Fear not, lovers of Box burgers, Joiner promised us earlier this week that The Box does indeed still live and will be back in business by March. A wastewater permit has stalled the move, he said.
n The Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission tentatively approved a rule last week that would require gas companies to disclose the names of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking" – a drilling process in which anywhere from 1 million to 5 million gallons of water, mixed with sand and other chemicals, is injected into the ground at extremely high pressures to crack shale formations and release natural gas.
Since gas companies started using the process here in Arkansas, environmentalists and public health advocates have spoken out against it for fear the chemicals could have a negative impact on the state's water. Arkansas is one of the first states to institute a disclosure rule.
Larry Bengal, director of the Oil and Gas Commission, hailed the ruling, saying it met "everyone's concerns." But others, like Donna Adolph of Arkansans for Gas Drilling Accountability, aren't convinced.
Adolph says the rule will go into effect Jan. 15, 2011, is a PR stunt.
"You don't go touting this as an environmental advancement when it doesn't amount to a hill of beans," Adolph says. "The gas companies can withhold information they deem proprietary. If you were a gas company, would you withhold the toxic stuff or the nontoxic stuff?"
Adolph points to a clause in the rule which says companies can submit a claim to have the identity of certain "chemical constituents" withheld as trade secrets, under criteria set by federal law. Bengal says gas companies will still have to give a complete list of every chemical that's used, but they won't have to disclose the exact way in which those chemicals are produced.
"When we use the term proprietary, it's the methodology of preparation," he says. "I'm not a chemist, but take an egg. I can tell you there's egg in this cake. But if I don't tell you it's a raw egg and you use a scrambled egg, your cake won't come out right. The proprietary nature of some of these will have to do with how you prepare that chemical. That won't prohibit people from knowing what's in their water because they'll be able to test for it. But it protects the competitive aspect of this which they're afforded under federal law."
Adolph says gas companies should disclose absolutely every component of their frack fluids.
"What they really need to do is just sit down with the stakeholders, which are the landowners of Arkansas. There is a huge amount of people growing disgruntled about the way they do business. If they have no fear about what's going to be found in people's water then why don't they just reveal it. They should volunteer to do this."
Taking out the trash
An environmentally-minded reader passed along an email to the Times recently, wondering if the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission had stopped providing trash pick-up at public boat ramps under the commission's control. Such a move would probably save a pretty penny, especially since the commission is responsible for close to 450 boat ramps across the state.
Mark Oliver, chief of fisheries at AGFC, says the commission has abandoned trash services at "less than 20" access areas to cut costs but it doesn't always have a negative impact.
"Our worst problem is people dropping off their house trash in our receptacles, which is illegal, and overfilling them between pick-ups," he says. "Animals scatter the litter when this happens. Where that is a problem, we sometimes remove the receptacles and sometimes this reduces the litter problem. Basically, having receptacles attracts more litter in some cases."
Oliver says it's hard to tell exactly how much money is saved because the expense is listed as "mowing/trash pick-up" in the commission's financial records. Last year those expenses totaled $793,910, most of which goes to pay mowers. In the north-central part of the state, near the White, Spring and Little Red Rivers, the litter problem has improved.
"The whole cost of that contract [for that region] is about $14,000," he says. "I think we saved about $5,000. Most of the time it improves the trash problem. Sometimes it doesn't work and we return them."
Oliver says when there is a problem with trash, the commission tries to respond swiftly.
"If there's an area where it's a problem, we'll focus in on it. They can call any of our regional offices or field offices. They all have toll free numbers and they're all listed on our website," he says.