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Review Finds 'Well Managed' Arkansas Fracking Regulation

State regulation of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) practices in Arkansas is "well managed and professional" but has room for improvement in a few areas, a recent review found.

A review of the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission (AOGC), Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) and Arkansas Natural Resources Commission programs regulating fracking was completed by a team appointed by State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations Inc. (Stronger).

From November 2011 through January 2012 a seven-member team evaluated Arkansas fracking programs against Stronger's 2010 Hydraulic Fracturing Guidelines. The review team consisted of members from the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC), Subra Co. of Louisiana, the Independent Petroleum Association of America, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, the Arkansas Canoe Club, Southwestern Energy and the 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, OCC director of the oil and gas conservation division, who served as chair of the review team.

The review team made recommendations for notification prior to hydraulic fracturing to enable field inspectors to have the opportunity to monitor fracking operations; increased funding to continue support of ADEQ positions that were funded for two years by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission; and funding to increase AOGC staffing to a level sufficient to meet commission inspection goals.

The Arkansas fracking regulatory program was commended for updating its hydraulic fracturing rules, developing a water well complaint protocol that could serve as an example to other states, and its user-friendly and educational website.

Since 2004, according to Stronger, the majority of the energy development in Arkansas has been occurring in the Fayetteville Shale in north-central Arkansas, where three primary operators are producing from almost all of the approximately 4,000 gas wells. Because of the development of the Fayetteville Shale, gas production has quadrupled since 2004, with production approaching 1 Tcf per year. The Fayetteville is being developed at a rate of about 700 to 900 wells per year.

Stronger has conducted a number of reviews of fracking regulation by states. Generally, the reviews find regulation to be adequate and recommend modest enhancements, as was the case in Arkansas. However, a recent Stronger review of fracking regulation in North Carolina found that state's program to be wanting with regulatory staff not adequately prepared to regulate oil and gas activities (see Shale Daily, March 2).

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