The Morning News
Local News for Northwest Arkansas
State Plans Closer Look At Drilling Water
By The Associated Press
LITTLE ROCK -- The top state environmental regulator her agency will increase inspections of areas where drilling companies store water used in boring through rock to reach natural gas deposits.
Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality Director Teresa Marks said Friday companies now send test samples to the department but that she wants the agency to start conducting its own tests.
Drilling has expanded rapidly across the Fayetteville Shale in north-central Arkansas, where higher natural gas prices have made it economically feasible to probe more difficult areas to extract gas. Drilling sites have lined storage ponds that contain water and rock from the drilling process.
Marks says random inspections at the ponds are to start immediately.
“A concern I have is we don’t know for sure what’s in those ponds,” Marks said Friday during the Arkansas Watershed Advisory Group and Arkansas Stream Team Watershed Conference. “They send us test samples, but we want to do testing ourselves.”
Marks says she has 17 inspectors, with eight of them working Fayetteville Shale. She says she needs to hire more inspectors to be able to handle the random testing.
Marks said that it would take a few months after the inspections to develop a report on the findings. There are a dozen sites that are allowed to store water that’s used during drilling, and three other companies are seeking ADEQ permits, she said.
“We want to do more testing and more research to determine the long-term effects the facilities could have on Arkansas,” Marks said.
The water can be used to irrigate crops, but soil and water samples must first be approved by ADEQ.
State Rep. Betty Pickett, D-Conway, who was at the gathering, said the Legislature should provide resources the ADEQ needs.
“This may be one of the biggest economic boons in Arkansas, and Arkansas needs it,” Pickett said. “Arkansas will be enriched by what’s going on, but while we bask in the dollar signs, we must not develop a blind eye for the environmental impact this will have. There’s no reason we have to trade one for the other.”
Shale drilling will contribute an estimated $22 billion to the state economy by 2012.
Pickett said she will encourage state regulatory agencies, such as the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission and the ADEQ to work closely together to keep an eye on the industry.