Tuesday, March 22, 2011

TOP STORY >> Group wants crowd at hearing on gas bills

Leader staff writer

The Citizens First Congress, a grassroots coalition of 49 community groups from across Arkansas that works on progressive reform at the Arkansas Legislature, is asking for help to ensure that several bills aimed at reform in the gas industry that go before the House Agriculture Committee today get a fair hearing.

“It is very important that as many people as possible come out and support the passage of the gas bills. Bring posters. We need to let them know that Arkansans are very concerned about our safety and our rights in this matter,” said a mass email that went out earlier late last week.

Committee meetings on the gas bills are going to be held at 10 a.m. today in Room 138 at the state Capitol.

Tom Kimmons from Shirley, a member of the Van Buren County Gas Advisory Board, talked this week about why people living in The Leader’s coverage area should care about their problems.

For one thing, the drilling is moving into the area, he said. And for another, drilling is a threat to Greers Ferry Lake, which provides both enjoyment and drinking water.

“We’re all in this together,” he said. “We all breathe the same air and drink the water.”

Kimmons said he lives about 1,000 feet from a compressor that wakes him during the night, so the noise-abatement bill is very important to him. But he said no one in the coalition wants the gas industry out of Arkansas. What they want is for the industry to follow the best practices it holds to in other states.

Imagine living with a 70-decibal vacuum cleaner day and night, he said. That’s what living next to the compressor is like for him. The noise-abatement bill asks that the noise from compressors be lowered to 55 during the day and 45 at night.

“We’re not against drilling. We just want them to do it right,” Kimmons said. “We want the legislature and the governor to do their job and protect the people with best-management practices.”

About two weeks ago, a group of state legislators from the gas-producing areas, including two from White County, formed the Fayetteville Shale Caucus to oppose the bills the Citizens First Congress supports.

This is the statement the caucus issued on March 10:

“We all have issues that our constituents want addressed. Sometimes, however, people file bills with good intent that affect the lives and jobs of people not in their district. It’s become pretty clear the Fayetteville Shale Play has become a target for a lot of recent

“The Fayetteville Shale is an economic engine that we must protect. Our goal is to protect the economic impact of the affected counties while working with the industry folks to encourage good corporate citizenship. We think we can do that without a ton of
legislation. Hopefully, the people will appreciate the bipartisan cooperation and the unity between members of different chambers.

“We, and many of our colleagues, agree that we need to send the right message to the business community that we appreciate their business and can find ways to work pro-actively through issues.

“The Fayetteville Shale Play is important to the long-term economic future of our districts and also the State of Arkansas. We are confident this will be a constructive working group that will strengthen the relationship between this important industry and the people of Arkansas,” the pro-industry group said.

The caucus members in The Leader’s coverage area are state Rep. Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia and state Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe. The group also includes state Rep. Stephen Meeks, R-Conway, and state Rep. David Meeks, R-Conway.

This following information was included in the mass e-mail from Citizens First Congress:

“We have introduced a package of legislation to support responsible natural gas development in Arkansas. These seven bills are intended to ensure that natural gas development be balanced in a responsible approach that takes advantage of the economic opportunities but also protects Arkansans’ individual property rights and the air, land, and water which we all depend upon for survival.”

n SB314 (Salmon) The Landowners Bill of Rights – “Arkansas landowners should have a voice in decisions about well siting and other plans on their property, full disclosure and adequate notice of all company activities on their property, and accurate information about their rights as mineral and/or surface owners.”

n HB 1396 Webb) Natural Gas Drilling Disclosure – “Gas companies should reveal to the public and state agencies volumes of water used and the source of the water, chemicals and volumes of chemicals used, quantity of fluid (water and chemicals) used in a well that remained in the well versus returned to the surface, and disposal methods for all drilling and fracturing fluids.”

n HB 1399 (Pierce) Rural Good Neighbor Noise Abatement – “Gas companies should reduce noise to below 55 db at 1,000 yards of distance from a house during the day and 45 db at night.”

n HB 1395 (Leding) Natural Gas Drilling Air Quality Protection – “Natural gas drilling, production and transportation releases a myriad of hazardous air contaminants that have limited monitoring in Arkansas. Air quality from wells near homes and of wells concentrated within small geographic areas should be monitored and agencies should evaluate their ability to adequately provide monitoring in the Fayetteville Shale region and ramp up efforts.”

n HB 1394 (Lenderman) Natural Gas Drilling Water Quality Protection – “Arkansas lakes, rivers and streams like the Little Red River, Cadron Creek and Greers Ferry Lake are threatened with pollution from gas development. Gas companies should be required to follow best management practices when building roads, pipelines and drilling pads. Waste pits containing toxic fluids from the drilling process should have strict requirements for construction, maintenance, and closure to prevent leakage and runoff. Casing standards should be strengthened to prevent contamination of groundwater. Gas companies should be responsible for testing private water supplies near drill sites for contamination.”

HB 1392 (Leding) Improving Inspections and Enforcement at Gas Drilling Sites – “Gas wells are not inspected often enough, and there are far too many cases where violations have gone unremediated and unpunished. Gas wells should be inspected at least annually and more often during drilling or fracturing, when millions of gallons of chemicals and contaminated water are handled on site. More must be done to hold polluters accountable for correcting problems they’ve created and to prevent them from repeating mistakes again.”

n HB 1393 (Webb) Increase Bonding to Protect Arkansas from Holding the Toxic Bag – “Gas wells remain productive for 10 to 30 years, after which they must be closed and remediated.

“We must protect Arkansans from companies who may go bankrupt or fail to meet their obligations to clean up their mess. Assurance bonds to pay for closing and remediating abandoned wells must be significantly increased. Requirements should be strengthened for idle wells, which have a higher risk of becoming the responsibility of the state,” the group’s statement said.