Independent Panel Tips Its Cap to Arkansas Regs, Regulators

The state of Arkansas takes its name from the Sioux word “acansa,” which roughly translates to “downstream place.” But actually, it’s the upstream segment of the oil and natural gas industry that’s been generating jobs, revenue and opportunity for the Natural State for the past 120-plus years – ever since the first gas well was sunk in 1889 and first oil well spud in Ouachita County back in 1919.

Since then, more than 35,000 individual oil and natural gas wells have been developed across Arkansas, with most of the natural gas in the northern part of the state and most of the oil down in the south. But thanks to the development of the Fayetteville Shale, Arkansas has, in the space of only a few short years, gone from mid-level status to among the most prolific energy producing states in the entire country. Consider: In 2007, the Fayetteville’s daily yield barely registered as a blip on this chart. Today? The Fayetteville alone is turning out more than 2.5 billion cubic feet a day, and that’s only from one formation in the state (albeit a pretty awesome one).

Of course, a big reason for the arrival of new supplies in and for Arkansas (and correspondingly lower energy prices for local residents) derives from the combination of horizontal drilling (patented in the early 1980s) and hydraulic fracturing, first applied in the 1940s and relied on today to stimulate the flow of energy from just about every oil and gas well in the country. But is fracturing technology safe? And are regulators in Arkansas doing a good enough job of ensuring the process is done in as safe and responsible manner as possible?

According to an independent panel of state and federal regulators, environmentalists (including reps from OGAP and the Arkansas Canoe Club) and industry experts, the answer is a resounding “yes.” Earlier this month, an organization known as the State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations (STRONGER) released a report detailing findings gathered from a several month review and consultation process focused on determining whether Arkansas’ hydraulic fracturing regulations were and are up-to-snuff.  According to the panel: “The review team has concluded that the Arkansas program is well managed and professional and generally meets the 2010 Hydraulic Fracturing Guidelines.”

“AIPRO was supportive of the Arkansas Oil & Gas Commission’s decision to request a STRONGER review of our state’s hydraulic fracturing regulations,” Kelly Robbins, head of the Arkansas Independent Producers & Royalty Owners (AIPRO), told EID when we reached out to him earlier today. “We are pleased with the group findings, which gives praise to Arkansas regulators for their efforts in monitoring and regulating this important production process.  Our member companies are and will continue to be committed to the safe, responsible production of oil and natural gas.”

Apparently so, if the comments and findings from the STRONGER report are any indication. Below, we grab a couple of the key excerpts from that report:

On relationship between hydraulic fracturing and water quality:

“To date, neither [state environmental regulatory] agency has found any evidence of contamination from hydraulic fracturing in any of the water wells tested.” (p. 7)

“In addition, the United States Geological Survey office in Little Rock has recently completed a water well testing program in Van Buren County, one of the most heavily drilled counties where hydraulic fracturing operations have occurred. No evidence of contamination from hydraulic fracturing has been found in the water wells tested.” (p. 7)

On regulatory updates specific to the Fayetteville Shale:

“The review team commends the AOGC, ADEQ and APCEC for updating the various rules identified above and the forms used to implement the rules in order to address issues in the Fayetteville Shale development area.” (p. 10)

“Surface casing in the Fayetteville Shale, where most of the hydraulic fracturing is occurring, is required to be set to a depth of 1,000 feet, or 500 feet below the lowest surface elevation within one mile of the well. The production casing must be cemented from the top of the Fayetteville Shale to the surface.” (p. 10)

“The AOGC has adopted standards that meet the criteria contained in the STRONGER hydraulic fracturing guidelines.” (p. 11)

On fluids/process disclosure:

“Service companies that perform hydraulic fracturing operations in Arkansas are required to provide AOGC with a master listing of all base fluids, additives and chemical constituents used during hydraulic fracturing operations in Arkansas.” (p. 11)

“Arkansas was among the first states in the nation to require public disclosure of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing operations.” (p. 11)

“The AOGC maintains a user-friendly webpage that provides information about wells and activities under its jurisdiction. Hydraulic fracturing information has been put into a database that is readily accessed by the public. The webpage also contains links to video demonstrations, maps and other information related to hydraulic fracturing. … The review team commends the AOGC on its use of the web to provide information on hydraulic fracturing to the public.” (p. 13-14)

On water management:

“There are presently no known discharges of E&P waste, including flow-back from hydraulic fracturing operations, to surface waters.” (p. 15)

“Applications for permits issued by ADEQ are also reviewed by the Arkansas Department of Health, which regulates exposure to radiation including Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORM). Analyses of waste from the Fayetteville Shale development area have shown levels of radiation to be well below the action level of 50 picocuries.” (p. 16)

On recently recorded seismic events:

“The AOGC, after consultation with the Arkansas Geological Survey and the Center for Earthquake Research and Information (CERI) at the University of Tennessee in Memphis, identified a possible correlation with underground injection at disposal wells located in close proximity to a previously unknown deep fault system. The studies concluded that there was no indication that hydraulic fracturing operations were the likely cause of the increased seismic activity.” (p. 16)

Full STRONGER report on Arkansas can be found here. And check out Kelly and his team over at AIPRO here – after you take a look at the great Fayetteville study they commissioned back in 2009.

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