Arkansas board cracks down on natural gas drilling

Arkansas soon could become the second state to require companies to reveal what chemicals they use in drilling natural gas wells, reports the Associated Press.

The state Oil and Gas Commission is in the final stages of developing a rule concerning a process known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” Wyoming passed a measure last month that requires well operators to disclose all chemicals used during the fracking process.

Amy Mall, a senior policy analyst with the National Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that other states are considering similar rules. Federal legislation on the issue has been introduced in Congress.

Commission Director Larry Bengal says under the Arkansas rule, the operator would report the specific names and concentrations of the chemicals used during fracking. That information would be on the commission’s website. The rule also would require operators to provide information before starting the fracking process to prove that well casings can withstand pressure and won’t leak.

The hydraulic fracturing process uses millions of gallons of water, mixed with chemicals and sand, which are pumped at high pressure thousands of feet underground to create fissures in the rock — known as shale — and release the gas. According to the Oil and Gas Commission’s website, 99.5 percent of fracking fluid is sand and water. But small amounts of chemicals also are used to reduce bacteria buildup in the well, reduce friction and prevent corrosion.

There have been concerns about possible groundwater contamination from the fracking fluid, although the state Department of Environmental Quality has found no conclusive link after inspecting hundreds of oil and gas drilling sites.

“It’s mostly sand and water, but that’s not a reflection of how toxic or nontoxic it is,” Mall said.

Drilling companies mostly have been reluctant to release the information about chemicals used in the fracking process, calling it proprietary information. But as the federal government has taken an interest in the issue, that is starting to change.

The monthlong public comment period on the proposed Arkansas rule will end Monday. The nine commissioners are set to vote on the final rule in December. Shane Khoury, the commission’s deputy director and general counsel, said he’s “fairly confident” the rule will be approved.

Chesapeake Energy Corp. of Oklahoma City, the second-largest producer in the Fayetteville Shale in Arkansas, said it would not oppose the commission’s rule and would comply. Houston-based Southwestern Energy Co., the largest producer in the shale, declined to comment.

“It appears that most of these companies understand that these requirements are going to be imposed in one form or another,” Khoury said.

(Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com)

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