Leader Blues

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

TOP STORY > >New bill tightens disposal permits

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

A month after Department of Environmental Quality Director Teresa Marks closed down two area shale gas waste-disposal sites, state Sen. Bobby Glover, D-Carlisle, has drafted legislation that would give towns, cities and counties a say for the first time in the permitting process.

Glover says he will introduce his bill when the General Assembly convenes Jan. 12.

Marks issued an emergency order Dec. 3 requiring Central Arkansas Disposal site, just outside Searcy, and Fayetteville Shale Land Farms near Carlisle to stop accepting fluids for disposal until further notice, citing numerous violations.

“They do have a truck-washing operation there,” Marks said, but were dumping the drilling wastes at approved landfills for now.

“There have been instances where the permitting rules have not been followed,” Marks said. “That gives us cause for concern.

We’re seeing if permit parameters are tight enough, (or if we need to) put in new language.”

Not far from Carlisle, Prairie County Land Farms LLC has applied for a permit. That site is literally across the road from Lonoke County on a road that has school bus and other traffic and is too close to a bayou, say area opponents of that operation.

At full operation, there would be a truck arriving on that road every 12 minutes to unload the waste.

They have hired veteran environmental attorney Sam Ledbettor, a former lawmaker, to represent them in opposing that landfill, which has not yet received a permit.

“A municipality or a county doesn’t have any say at all over what’s going to be done,” Glover said Tuesday. “In the Crossroads community, the roads are real, real narrow. The county surfaces the roads with nothing but a seal coat.”

He said the trucks, which run 24 hours a day, seven days a week tear up the roads and create a traffic hazard.”

“The quorum courts don’t have any say whatsoever and in some areas what they are dumping is contaminated,” he said.

Glover’s bill, not yet filed, is titled: “AN ACT TO REQUIRE LOCAL APPROVAL BEFORE ISSUING A PERMIT TO DISPOSE OF DRILLING WASTES; TO REQUIRE NOTICE OF AN APPLICATION FOR A DISPOSAL PERMIT; TO ALLOW LOCAL GOVERNING AUTHORITIES TO APPEAL A DISPOSAL PERMIT; TO ADOPT RULES FOR THE DISPOSAL OF DRILLING WASTES; AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.”

It gives the ADEQ until Jan. 1, 2010 to adopt rules providing standards “for the proper disposal of drilling fluids, produced waters or other wastes associated with the exploration, development, or production of crude oil, natural gas, or geothermal energy.”

Glover’s bill would require approval by the town, city or county in which the disposal site was located, and authorizes those entities to withhold approval if the disposal site would “unduly interfere with the use of a pubic road, facility, business or residence or endangers a member of public, causes undue damage to a public road, creates a public nuisance or “harms the general welfare.”

In Lonoke County, where fish food has become prohibitively expensive, some fish farmers have left that business and some are considering the lucrative alternative of becoming dumpsites for the water, chemicals, oil, diesel and other waste from shale gas extraction.

There are 13 permitted land farms operating in the state, Marks said.

At Fayetteville Shale Land farms, ADEQ found oil in the staging pond where drilling fluids are stored before being spread on the land. The permit prohibits disposal of oil-tainted water and other oil-based fluids at these sites.

They also found that operators had applied drilling fluids within 100 feet of White Oak branch and water samples from the creek showed a significantly higher level downstream than upstream.

State Sen. John Paul Capps, D-Searcy, said he hadn’t seen Glover’s bill and couldn’t comment other than to say the environment must be protected, but that a lot of good was coming to local landowners, White and Searcy counties and also to the state in the form of gas severance taxes.

“I hope this doesn’t become a political issue,” he said. “Drilling companies want a clean record,” Capps said. “(Glover’s) trying to make sure that local people have some say in the location (of these disposal sites).”

Capps said this would be the first regular session of the General Assembly since the drilling and exploration began in earnest.

“We’ll gather up all the things that need adjusting and see what needs to be done in one big omnibus bill,” Capps said.

“We want to be safe, but we don’t want to kill the goose that lays the golden egg,” said Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman.

He said safety and wear and tear on county roads were major considerations.