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Watchdog Faults Fayetteville Shale Oversight

A new report that slams the natural gas industry and state regulators for "widespread violations of Arkansas clean water standards" in the Fayetteville Shale is based on old data and overlooks the fact that some of the report's recommendations already have been implemented, state regulators told NGI's Shale Daily.

The nonprofit Arkansas Public Policy Panel (APPP), which "work[s] for social justice by helping community people to organize," examined Fayetteville Shale gas drilling and production site inspection records for the period July 2006 to August 2010. It said in its report that:

"We don't feel the report is painting an accurate picture of what is taking place now, and that's simply because of the dates that are reflected," DEQ spokeswoman Cecillea Pond-Mayo told NGI's Shale Daily. "They ended their data gathering in August 2010, and right about that time is when we got a grant from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission to hire four additional inspectors [see Daily GPI, Sept. 30, 2010]."

Thanks to the additional staff, DEQ has "well more than doubled" natural gas inspections, she said. "In fact, from January to June of this year we did over 700 inspections. Our previous average was around 200 a year...That has been tremendously successful.

"The other thing that they recommend that we have already done is now we are submitting a quarterly report to the legislature. We did our first report and submitted it a month ago."

Before the additional inspectors were hired, inspections were complaints-driven, Pond-Mayo said. "What we're able to do now with the additional inspectors is proactively inspect," she said. "The [APPP] report suggests [doing this on] an annual basis. We don't have the resources for that yet, but we are inspecting them routinely; it's not on an annual basis."

Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission (AOGC) Director Larry Bengal told NGI's Shale Daily that it seemed as if the APPP report's release had been timed to precede a joint meeting of the Arkansas House and Senate committees on Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development scheduled for Tuesday (Sept. 13).

At the meeting lawmakers are scheduled to discuss the merits of seven pieces of legislation that did not make it through the state's last legislative session. Some or all of the bills, which addressed air, water and noise issues in the natural gas patch, could be submitted to further study and possible rewrite for introduction in the state's next legislative session in 2013.

However, Bengal noted that some of the issues -- such as noise and the disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemicals -- already have been addressed at the regulatory level by the AOGC (see Shale Daily, Dec. 10, 2010).

The APPP report recommends that DEQ:

"This report adds evidence that Arkansas needs stronger protections for clean water, more manpower and more resources to adequately inspect the current natural gas drilling operations throughout the Fayetteville Shale play," APPP said.

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