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Regulator: Eagle Ford Needs Its Own Task Force

In the early days of Barnett Shale drilling in North Texas it would have been nice to have better communication among area residents, municipal governments, regulators and energy companies, Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) Commissioner David Porter told NGI's Shale Daily. To make that happen in the fast-emerging Eagle Ford Shale of South Texas, Porter would like to see a task force focused on the play.

"I think [the Eagle Ford] is going to be a major factor over the next five to 10 years, so I think we've got to get ready for it," Porter said. "That's one of the things that perhaps we didn't do quite as good a job as we should have at the Railroad Commission when the Barnett Shale first happened."

In the Barnett's early days, the biggest problem was a lack of communication, Porter said. "We did not let the various constituencies up there really know and understand what the commission was doing to regulate the play, both the general population and local government," he said. "...[I]n the absence of any other information people kind of assumed it was true that the Railroad Commission really did nothing to regulate. That's one thing I think we've got to make sure does not occur in the Eagle Ford."

In a recent newspaper editorial, Porter said the Eagle Ford "has the potential to be the single most significant economic development in our state's history. The Railroad Commission has adopted temporary rules to regulate activity in the region...We are looking into creating an Eagle Ford Task Force comprised of representatives from affected communities, state and local government."

Challenges that affected development in the Barnett Shale often were related to the fact that the play overlies a metropolitan area. Permitting and rights-of-way issues were prevalent, as well as concerns about noise and emissions from gas patch activities. These concerns are still around today.

In the Eagle Ford, which overlies a much more rural area, the issues are different but still significant, Porter said. Water use and disposal is going to be a big factor in the Eagle Ford's development. Producers need lots of water to drill and stimulate wells; there also is a lot of produced and flowback water that needs to be recycled or disposed of.

"One of the main things is that water is scarce in the region," Porter said. "We've got to get ahead of the water issues. The Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer is very important to the water needs of South Texas.

"I've met with actually three companies in the last few weeks that are looking at doing some kind of water recycling. One or two of them are probably going to put in some kind of a pilot program down in the Eagle Ford Shale to actually try to recycle both frack water and produced water to the point where the water can be used for oil and gas operations...That's going to be a big issue in the future development of the Eagle Ford: Where is the water going to come from and what do we do with the produced water from the formation?"

The RRC overseas activities in the Eagle Ford from its Corpus Christi and San Antonio offices, both of which need more staff to be fully up to the challenge, Porter said. Between the two offices there are about 40 staffers altogether operating out of the two offices, he said; another 20-30 are needed.

Whether those staffers are added, and to what degree, will depend upon the future funding of the RRC. Overall, the RRC is approved and funded for 704 full time-equivalent employees, Porter said. However, with cuts and attrition staffing is about 630 now.

Legislation being weighed in Austin to implement the recommendations of a recent RRC sunset review would have the RRC operate on a budget entirely funded from industry fees (see Shale Daily, April 6). In Porter's view, self-funding of the RRC "may be the least-bad of all the alternatives that we've got out there.

"I don't like to raise fees [on industry], but the alternative is not being able to function to protect the health and safety of Texans. Also, it's important to remember that our inspectors are an important part of the permitting process. If the industry is going to continue to get permits to drill their wells, we've got to have enough people to process those permits."

If the RRC winds up being self-funded, Porter said it is likely that it will be able to add the staff it needs to oversee and police the Eagle Ford.

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