The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) has hired four inspectors, one inspector supervisor and one enforcement analyst for the sole purpose of monitoring natural gas drilling, production and water disposal activities in the Fayetteville Shale.
ADEQ said it plans to hire an additional enforcement analyst for the same purpose within the next 30 days or so.
"These additional inspectors will allow us to make random inspections in addition to responding to complaints received, and the additional enforcement analyst will assist in moving forward enforcement efforts at a quicker pace," said ADEQ Director Teresa Marks.
The ADEQ Water Division typically responds to an average of 100 complaints a year for activities related to natural gas drilling. It also conducts an average of 200 inspections a year. Before the new hires, the division had 17 inspectors.
Steve Drown, chief of ADEQ's water division, told NGI that while oil and gas exploration in Arkansas is nothing new, the technology employed in the Fayetteville Shale -- namely hydraulic fracturing -- creates new wrinkles in enforcement. And then there's all the activity the play has spawned since it was pioneered by Southwestern Energy Co.
"It's kind of like the new Gold Rush, if you will," Drown said.
Initial complaints about activity in the Fayetteville tended to center around well pad construction, spills, discharges from reserve pits and similar issues, Drown said. "We're not seeing that as much anymore."
Most complaints now are related to gathering line construction, particularly with regard to stream crossings, he said.
"We're averaging 80-100 complaints a year in the Fayetteville Shale, and that's been pretty much the same for the last four or five years running," he said.
The additional hires are funded by a grant from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC), which manages more 100,000 acres of property in north-central Arkansas identified as the Fayetteville Shale Play area.
AGFC has volunteered to grant $1,090,000 to ADEQ for the purpose of providing environmental protection activities in those areas where natural gas drilling is conducted.
"Everyone is concerned about impacts on land and habitat, and we believe we've addressed those concerns by providing funds to hire these inspectors," said AGFC's Scott Henderson, deputy director for special projects. "We've included contract provisions in the leases that protect our natural areas and wildlife. These requirements outline seismic, drilling and pipeline management practices that we believe will keep the areas safe."
Although the additional inspectors and enforcement analyst will devote a portion of their time to AGFC property, they will be inspecting drilling operations throughout the state, ADEQ said.
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