There was a lively meeting today of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development as they took up a slate of proposals to increase environmental regulations on the oil and gas industry in Arkansas.
The five proposals were sent to interim study when it became apparent by their sponsors that they did not have the votes for passage during the regular session earlier this year.
As AP reporter Andrew DeMillo astutely pointed out this morning, interim study is much like preseason NFL football. Nevertheless, the discussion brought a large group of environmental activists as well as lobbyists for the various oil and gas producers. Around a dozen protesters wore shirts reading "Razorbacks for More Natural Gas Fracking Regulations" with various facts on the back.
"I believe the biggest problem with ADEQ regulations right now is the lack of inspections," said Sam Lane with an organization called Stop Arkansas Fracking. "We have already talked about how they have performed many more inspections this year due to the four new inspectors that were hired with Game and Fish Commission money… I’ve been told the majority of those inspections are on Game and Fish property and very little extra inspections are taking place on private land."
Lane said that his group would like to see inspections to be required on every single well site on a regular basis by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality.
Director of ADEQ Teresa Marks had a different point of view.
"Right now, we think that we have adequate regulations in place. Now that doesn’t mean that something is not going to come to our attention later that we feel like needs to be covered by regulation and we would move forward with instituting those," Marks said.
"But at this point, we are kind of waiting on EPA to finish their studies. They are looking at groundwater issues and they are also looking at air issues in relation to shale fracking in general. And we are going to see how those tests come out. And those reports may indicate that some additional regulations need to come forward so we will definately be doing that should we need to," she added.
The committee broke for lunch around 12:15 after discussing the first item on the agenda for over two hours and will be again Tuesday afternoon.