BROOKLAND, AR (KAIT) – The Arkansas House Agriculture Committee will discuss a package of bills Wednesday, which aim to protect Arkansas' landowners, water and air from the hazards of natural gas drilling. Homer Lenderman, D, of Brookland said Sunday he sponsored one bill. Lenderman said HB1394 will protect Arkansas' water supply in areas affected by gas drilling operations if legislation is passed. He said he's optimistic the bill will fly through the committee Wednesday.
"The title of the bill is to Protect Arkansas Water and Areas Affected by Gas Drilling," said Lenderman. "Gas drilling has come to Arkansas and it's a very welcome industry. It is creating a tremendous number of jobs, stimulating the local economy and hopefully going to help lessen our dependence on foreign oil."
Lenderman said he's gotten hundreds of letters from anxious Arkansans who live in areas where companies drill for gas. He said the overwhelming message from people is that gas companies should be regulated.
"There are a lot of regulations that are in place as far as looking at contamination of water resources and things like that. This bill right here allows these two entities (ADEQ and AOGC) to come together and to develop a set or a group of guidelines that they need that are specific to the fracturing process and specific to the gas drilling industry," said Lenderman. "12,000 feet is pretty common on a gas well. That's two and a half miles into the Earth's surface roughly, and they are fracturing the Earth's surface below us."
According to the bill, Arkansas lakes, rivers and streams will be protected from pollution from gas development. It states the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission will be given the power to hold gas companies responsible under the Arkansas Water and Air Protection Act. It also states companies will be required to practice good management of construction, maintenance and closure rules for waste pits. It also will give the departments the ability to force companies to improve well casings to prevent from water contamination.
"Anytime an industry comes in, there are things that have to be considered," said Lenderman. "They are using a new process or new technology called fracturing, where they force large amounts of fluids into the Earth to cause fracture, which allows the industry to remove the natural gas more efficiently."
Lenderman said fracturing, otherwise known as "fracking", is where drilling companies use hydraulics to crack layers of rock. Companies use a mixture of liquids to crack rock. That mixture is what Lenderman wants to keep out of the water supply.
"Obviously, they're not extracting all these fluids. Some of these fluids are left in there and they do use a tremendous amount of water. So how are these fluids affecting our ground water supply is a critical element that we have to deal with at this time," said Lenderman. "Protect groundwater supplies especially, but surface water also from spillage, from cracks in casings, through leakage in liners and things like that."
Lenderman said he and other state officials have been referring to the Modern Oil and Gas Laws, Regulations and Ordinances manual the Arkansas Public Policy Panel created earlier this month. It presents information on owner rights, water, air, noise, inspections, waste and health impacts other states have already been challenged with.
Lenderman said it's a matter of time before gas drilling operations commence in northeast Arkansas.
"Are we going to find natural gas in northeast Arkansas? There's no doubt in my mind that as we have new technologies and new techniques, we will find oil and natural gas below the surface in northeast Arkansas," said Lenderman. "Will it be economically feasible to extract that? At this time, I don't know if that will be true or not."
Lenderman said he has run into opposition.
"Anytime you look at regulating and industry, there's cost involved. When you start looking at putting in a synthetic and a clay liner, you're increasing cost of operation. When you're looking at requiring double casings, when you're requiring testing of wells prior to and after drilling, you run into cost. The industry obviously wants to maintain their industry as profitable as possible," said Lenderman. "The industry does not want to be a bad neighbor. The industry does not want to harm the environment."
"Industry tells us they're doing most all of these things now," said Lenderman.
Lenderman said if legislation isn't passed, there isn't a safeguard to protect water resources from contamination from "fracking" fluid.
"Water is unique to all of us. Every one of us have to have water. Even those of us who are not in the affected area, we go to Lake Norfork, we go to Greers Ferry, we go to the Arkansas River and we are in those areas that could and would be affected by this," said Lenderman. "Areas that are polluted, ground water supplies or even surface water supplies are treated; there might be areas that are off limits."
"We're looking at this as a document that we know there has to be regulation. There's no question, and we're looking at whether this document would best meet the needs of the industry and of Arkansas," said Lenderman.
Other bills include HB1392, an act to create a program for annual inspection of gas wells.
HB1393. An act to protect Arkansans by requiring bonds for gas drilling operations.
HB1395. An act to protect air quality in the vicinity of natural gas drilling fields.
HB1396. An act to require full disclosure regarding natural gas drilling chemicals.
HB1399. The Rural Good Neighbor Act.