New rules for drilling studied

New rules for drilling studied

The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality is revamping proposed regulations that would provide uniform rules for drilling companies along the Fayetteville Shale, Director Teresa Marks said Friday.

Over the next few weeks the department will work with industry representatives and others to revamp the regulations that were first proposed earlier this month, Marks told members of the state’s Pollution Control and Ecology Commission at the board’s regular meeting.

Companies now have to get permits from the state’s Oil and Gas Commission to drill. Currently they also have to get letters of authorization from the department to construct pits to hold leftover water from the drilling process. The department is proposing instead that companies get a general permit to build the pits.

The five-year general permit would require drilling operators to line reserve pits ”” used to hold water, dirt and rock left over from the drilling operations ”” and keep them free of trash. It also would prohibit pits in wetlands, require operations to dispose of water in the reserve pits at licensed facilities and take steps to control erosion.

”It’s a new type of industry for Arkansas…. We wanted to make sure we get the best permit,” Marks said.

After the meeting, she said the changes to the draft permit made public earlier this month so far were minor. For instance, the permit needed to be clearer and include additional restrictions to prohibit reserve pits from being built in 100-year flood plains.

Marks said some changes could be made after a meeting next week of company officials and others. The meeting is set for Friday at 9 a. m. in the Environmental Quality Department’s commission room at Arkansas State Police Headquarters, No. 1 State Police Plaza.

John Thaeler, senior vice president of SEECO, the Arkansas subsidiary of Southwestern Energy, said Friday afternoon that impermeable clay liners can adequately hold fresh water in reserve pits. He said any oil-based mud used in his company’s drilling operations are kept in separate holding tanks.

”The last I looked at the original proposal, there were no provisions for clay-lined pits,” he said.

Thaeler said his company got a copy of the proposed changes Thursday and was still reviewing them. ”We’re looking forward to sharing our thoughts. We know it’s very important to keep an open dialogue.”

The department moved to tighten restrictions on naturalgas drilling operations earlier this month. The move came in response to site visits Marks and two other department officials took May 21 along the Fayetteville Shale in Conway County.

The three saw oil and trash in reserve pits. Operations typically use about 1 million to 2 million gallons of water ”” in a one-time use ”” to fracture the underground shale so the natural gas can be extracted. The water generally comes from man-made ponds on-site, but occasionally comes from tapping surface or municipal water. Once used, the water is held in a reserve pit before being disposed of off-site at a permitted commercial facility.

The Fayetteville Shale is a geologic formation that stretches from north-central Arkansas to the Mississippi River.

Rising gas prices and new technology have made naturalgas drilling a more economically viable option for companies that once found drilling in the shale too expensive. Since 2003, some 600 permits have been issued and around 300 operations have been drilled, according to recent data from the state’s Oil and Gas Commission.

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