Friday, April 23, 2010

TOP STORY >> Old farm to be dump site

Leader senior staff writer

On recommendation of its hearing officer, the Pollution Control and Ecology Commission on Friday approved—with minor changes—the application for a former farm on the Lonoke County-Prairie County line to serve as a disposal site for water and chemicals pumped and transported from gas wells in the Fayetteville Shale.

Prairie County Land Farm LLC is now authorized to accept the drilling mud, which includes water, chlorides and heavy metals, into a lined settling pond, from which it will later be applied to the surrounding land on the property.

Owners of the land farm, according to the application filed in March 2009, are Bill Baldwin, Karlos Heird and Charles Waters and their headquarters are in Cabot.

“We could appeal to circuit court,” said Sam Ledbetter, attorney for neighbors challenging the land farm. “I haven’t gotten together with my clients yet to see what they want to do.”

“The farms have a finite life,” according to Teresa Marks, director of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality. “At some point they reach capacity,” she said and must be shut down.

The land farms are required to have enough money in escrow to perform the shutdown. In the case of Prairie County Land Farm, that would be $201,000, according to the permit.

It was the closure plan that the commission approved Friday.

Neighbors opposing the land farm say it would cost about $1 million to safely close it down.

The land farm will provide a reserve pit for drilling-fluids storage and a land-application service, according to the application signed by Waters.

The waste is transported from hydraulic-fractured gas wells—frac wells—the closest of which is in White County.

Both the operator and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality will monitor inspection wells and analyze water samples from those wells and soil samples on the so-called land farm.


Prairie County Land Farm is the eighth permitted land farm in the state. There used to be 13, but an inspection and report by ADEQ in April 2009 found so many problems that some shut down, according to officials.

A pair of area land farms for Fayetteville Shale waste were fined $112,000 and had their permits revoked last year.

The permits for Fayetteville Shale Land Farm LLC in Lonoke County, just off Hwy. 70 on Hwy. 381, and Central Arkansas Disposal LLC, in White County, 2.5 miles northeast of Griffithville, were revoked March 13, 2009, according to Marks.

The number of land farms is not sufficient to dispose properly of all the waste from the state’s 2,000 frac wells, according to Ryan Benefield, ADEQ assistant director. Some is trucked to Oklahoma and Texas, where it is injected into deep storage wells.

There are also some deep storage wells permitted in Arkansas.

Although the frac wells require pumping water, sometimes diesel fuel, salts, heavy metals and unidentified “proprietary” chemicals that may include the carcinogen benzene, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality only has authority over waste that is stored in tanks or ponds, spread on the ground or incinerated—in other words, things that could pollute
Arkansas’ surface water, land or the air, Marks said.

“We regulate the surface facility and the runoff,” Marks said.

Steve Drown, water-division manager, said the liquid pumped into the frac wells is 99 percent water and sand.

Drown said that despite complaints by people getting water from wells near frac wells, no migration of frac chemicals has been found, at least not in their jurisdiction.

In Sublette County, Wyo., a water well was found to have brown oily water with a foul smell, according to an article published by ProPublica, a nonprofit journalism foundation.

Tests showed it contained benzene, a chemical believed to cause aplastic anemia and leukemia in a concentration 1,500 times the level safe for people.

As for drinking water safety, that’s under the authority of the Arkansas Department of Health, the director said.

The Alabama courts and circuit court of appeals would have required the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate the injection of chemicals in frac wells, but under pressure from the gas and oil industry, Congress passed a law in 2005 ruling that pumping the chemicals into the wells didn’t constitute storage, but exempted frac wells themselves from federal laws protecting drinking water.

About 50 members of Congress are interested in requiring a study and perhaps revisiting that law, according to ProPublica.

Frac well drillers use combinations of 260 chemical additives, according to ProPublica, including commonly benzene and formaldehyde, known carcinogens.

No diesel fuel is allowed on the land farms, Marks said. It must either be hauled to another state, disposed of in deep injection wells, or reprocessed into usable diesel fuel. The chemicals and salts are reclaimed and the remainder is an aggregate suitable for use on roads.

Arkansas Reclamation Services near Beebe is working on such reprocessing.

Because it’s an industrial, smokestack site located in an agricultural area, the ADEQ has received numerous complaints, according to Benefield. But inspections and air quality tests have not found significant problems, according to Benefield.

The ADEQ currently has no authority over the 2,000 frac wells drilled in the Fayetteville Shale over the past four years, other than the temporary waste storage ponds on site. Neither does the ADEQ have authority over deep-injection well storage of waste materials, even if toxic chemicals might leach into important drinking water or irrigation aquifers.

The drilling and the injection-well storage are under the purview of the state Oil and Gas Commission, Marks explained.


Hydraulic fracturing is a process now used in nine out of 10 natural gas wells in the United States, where millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are pumped underground under pressure to break apart the rock and release the gas.

Some scientists are worried that the chemicals may pose a threat either underground or when the waste fluids are handled on the surface.

Some chemicals are used to lubricate the process and the sand is used to hold open new fractures and to allow the gas to escape into the well.

“We started permitting them in the 1990s,” said Drown. “We followed federal guidelines.”

“Since then we’ve changed the requirements. The director has broad authority,” he said.

The monitoring is also of waterways adjacent to disposal farms, as well as the soils on the farms and making sure the concentrations of chemicals, including salts, in the ponds and on the soils do not exceed EPA limits.

There are no discharge permits, so discovery of such chemicals downstream from a disposal farm, but not upstream, is a violation.

Marks said the vast network of new natural gas pipelines and gas compressors could also be of environmental concern.