A review team with the State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations (STRONGER) says Arkansas’ regulation of hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells is “well managed,” but recommends more funding for well inspections.
STRONGER was formed in 1999 to continue to update rules and regulations begun cooperatively in 1988 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC).
Between November 2011 and January 2012, the group reviewed policies of the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission (AOGC), Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ), and Arkansas Natural Resources Commission (ANRC) as they related to the hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells in the state.
The review team had three members and four official observers. The team members were: Lori Wrotenbery, Oklahoma Corporation Commission; Wilma Subra, Subra Company, Louisiana; and Jim Collins, Independent Petroleum Association of America. The official observers were: Jamie Crawford, Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality; Debbie Doss, Arkansas Canoe Club; Jim Bolander, Southwestern Energy; and Nancy Johnson, U.S. Department of Energy.
“The review team has concluded that the Arkansas hydraulic fracturing program is well managed and professional and generally meets STRONGER’s hydraulic fracturing guidelines. The review team also made some specific recommendations for improvement based on the guidelines,” said Lori Wrotenbery, director of the Oil and Gas Conservation Division of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, who served as chairman of the review team.
Since 2004, the majority of the Arkansas development in Arkansas has occurred in the Fayetteville Shale located in north-central Arkansas, where three primary operators are producing almost all of the approximately 4,000 gas wells, According to information provided by STRONGER. The Fayetteville Shale is being developed at a rate of about 700 to 900 wells per year.
Hydraulic fracturing and other drilling techniques have become a source of controversy in the Fayetteville Shale and other unconventional shale plays. Some central Arkansas landowners and environmentalists have complained that the water and fluids used in the fracturing process is a danger to groundwater and could contaminate underground sources of drinking water.
Others have claimed the fracturing process and drilling of wells to depths of more than 10,000 feet is a reason for the increased number of earthquakes in Arkansas. The Arkansas Geological Society has said it could not tie earthquakes to natural gas drilling, but would further investigate wastewater injection in the shale as a possibility.
“We are calling for immediate, drastic changes to the entire process,” notes a statement from Stop Arkansas Fracking. “Our main goals are to inform the public about the negative impacts of hydraulic fracturing and to obtain better regulations.”
The STRONGER review included several recommendations. Those include:
• Improved notification prior to hydraulic fracturing to enable field inspectors the opportunity to monitor hydraulic fracturing operations;
• Increased funding to continue support of ADEQ positions that were funded for two years by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission;
• Funding to increase AOGC staffing to a level sufficient to meet Commission inspection goals.
Increased AOGC staffing is necessary to better monitor the about 15,000 active wells in the state. Of the 40 full-time and 10 part-time positions at AOGC, only 13 are field inspectors, according to the STRONGER report. However, the report does note that other state agencies provide inspectors for wells.
Link here for the complete 27-page report from STRONGER.
Michael Tilley with our content partner, The City Wire, is the author of this report. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.