A legislative committee Wednesday approved Tennessee’s first regulations for the use of “fracking” to extract oil and natural gas from wells after hearing several environmentalist complain the rules don’t go far enough.
The vote effectively marks the last hurdle for putting the rules promulgated by the Department of Environment and Conservation into effect next month.
It came after the Republican majority on the Joint Government Operations Committee rejected a Democratic effort to also ask TDEC to consider adding provisions to the rules in the future.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner, who made the motion, said the idea was to at least require consideration of some suggestions from the environmentalists. Under his motion, TDEC would have considered requiring companies to publicly disclose all chemicals they use, to conduct periodic testing of water wells within a mile of fracking sites and to mandate that companies file plans for dealing with leftover waste water.
On an initial vote, two Senate Republicans sided with Democrats. The ensuing convoluted parliamentary situation was resolved when one of the Republicans, Sen. Ferrell Haile of Gallatin, changed to vote with GOP colleagues.
Turner said the final vote showed “the position of this committee is to do just what the industry wants.” House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, however, said that the rules represent a reasonable compromise, which is basically how TDEC attorney Alan Leiserson depicted them.
Leiserson said the rules follow a middle ground when compared to what other states have adopted.
Fracking has been going on in Tennessee for about 40 years, but has always involved relatively small operations that use only a small amount of water and nitrogen gas, he said. The permit required has been no different from that needed for a standard oil drilled oil well.
In other states, fracking operations sometimes pump millions of gallons of water deep underground. The rules anticipate the possibility of such operations in Tennessee by putting extra requirements on operations involving more than 200,000 gallons of water.
In those cases, testing of water wells within a half mile of the site would be required and operators would have to disclose chemicals they use, except for protection of “trade secrets.” The undisclosed information would become open only in special circumstances, such as an accidental release of the fluids.
Representatives of the League of Women Voters, the Sierra Club, the Tennessee Clean Water Network, the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Coalition for a Frack-Free Tennessee told the committee that modifications of the rules are needed to better protect the environment and the public.
“What we’ve got here is home cooking,” said Brian Paddock of the Sierra Club.
Representatives of the Tennessee Oil and Gas Association and Leah Dundon of Nashville, an attorney who represents companies engaged in fracking, said the rules provide ample protection for the environment and citizens while leaving the path clear for development of gas operations and accompanying economic benefits.
Chuck Laine, vice president and lobbyist for the association, said the organization recognizes a need for the rules even though not agreeing with all of them.
“We can live with them,” he said.