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Review: States Able to Protect Water Resources from Drilling Practices

Current state regulatory programs for water and environmental resource protection vary in scope and specificity, but they invariably have common elements in place to ensure oil and natural gas resources are developed in a way designed to protect water resources, the Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC) said in a new report.

GWPC, whose members consist of state and federal groundwater agencies, industry representatives, environmentalists and concerned citizens, asserted there are adequate rules in place, and instead of a complete overhaul, regulators should review their water protection regulations and tweak their drilling regulations as needed.

"Some have suggested that the dual responsibilities of resource conservation and environmental protection are incompatible and that an oil and gas agency may be more interested in the production of petroleum resources than in environmental protection," the report noted. "This perception may have had some validity until the 1960s but is no longer true, as the progression of water protection regulations implemented during the past 50 years demonstrates.

"In reality, resource conservation laws led to the development of regulations that were rooted in practical, implementable actions. This understanding of conservation regulation was instrumental in the development of environmental requirements that are tied to practical rather than theoretical concepts."

The GWPC reviewed the regulations for 27 oil and gas producing states that directly impact water resources: permitting, well construction, hydraulic fracturing, temporary abandonment, well plugging, tanks, pits and waste hauling and spills. The report did not evaluate the state programs but rather the state regulations.

Each of the states covered in the study was given the opportunity to review the findings of the report and provide any updated information concerning regulations. Responses were received from 13 states and incorporated into the final report.

The report, issued last week, comes as federal and state regulators consider stricter regulation of hydraulic fracturing, which is used in more than 90% of the gas wells drilled in the United States. Congress is expected to soon take up the issue, and regulators also have launched reviews.

Just last month concerns that gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale could damage the region's water quality prompted the Delaware River Basin Commission to require, pending a review, commission approval before energy companies drill in the drainage area of the basin's special protection waters (see Daily GPI, June 1).

"A small number of potential fracture fluid additives such as benzene, ethylene glycol and naphthalene has been linked to negative health affects at certain exposure levels," the GWPC noted. "However, most additives contained in fracture fluids, including sodium chloride, potassium chloride and diluted acids, present low to very low risks to human health and the environment."

The best way to eliminate concern would be to use additives that are not associated with human health effects, the study noted. Regardless, said the authors, since a study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2004 "found no confirmed cases of contamination from the relatively shallow hydraulic fracturing of coalbed methane reservoirs, it is not unreasonable to conclude that the risk of fracture fluid intrusion into ground water from the hydraulic fracturing of deeper conventional and unconventional oil and gas zones could be considered very low..."

The report and addendums are available on-line at www.gwpc.org. A web-enabled version of the study is to be released in September.

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ISSN © 2577-9877 | ISSN © 1532-1231
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