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.
A review of UT records leading up to the state’s fracking decision last month shows the question of fracking public land in Tennessee is not new, reports the Chattanooga TFP. As far as back as 2002, when UT first shopped the idea of seeking oil and gas drilling bids on its property to the executive subcommittee of the State Building Commission, there was interest among other state agencies with custody of big bodies of land in East Tennessee where the underground Chattanooga shale deposits may hide today’s new gold — natural gas.
One day after the university’s first pitch before the subcommittee on Oct. 22, 2002, UT’s Alvin Payne, assistant vice president of UT office of capital projects, wrote a memo to report the results of the meeting to Jack Britt, vice president of UT Institute of Agriculture:
“There was extensive interest in this area by multiple state agencies such as the Department of Environment and Conservation, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the Department of Correction, etc. All of the agencies were supportive of our initiative and would like to potentially do something similar to that which we propose.”
The memos and dozens of other documents and emails were obtained by the Southern Environmental Law Center using Freedom of Information Act requests. SCLC shared them with the newspaper.
….Meg Lockhart, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation said neither she nor Jonathon Burr in TDEC’s mining section have heard of anyone suggesting the state drill on its own property for state gain.
But TDEC has worked with UT and drillers on UT’s draft “research plan” and took it to the governor’s office.
In a March 18, 2012, email exchange between Bryan Kaegi, who represents Consol Energy, and Larry Arrington, chancellor of UT’s Institute of Agriculture, Arrington states: “Our strategy (and they agreed) was to have TDEC help push for approvals. …”
In another email exchange between the two on Aug. 20, 2012, Kaegi tells Arrington: “I have spoken with Administration and TDEC and both have said ball is in UT hands.”
Less that two months later, UT officials met with Jonathan Burr and Paul Schmierbach of TDEC. In UT debriefing notes, Schmierbach offered the following comments:
“Be prepared for the worst from the environmental community — but their actions will not sway the Governor’s office resolve/support.”
The University of Tennessee received state approval Friday to move forward with its plan to drill oil and gas wells for hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — on university land in Morgan and Scott counties, reports The News Sentinel. The four-member executive subcommittee of the State Building Commission voted unanimously after three hours of testimony from UT officials, environmental activists and industry personnel.
The move cleared the way for documents, called a request for proposals, or RFP, that allow UT to begin soliciting bids from oil and gas companies interested in leasing land in the more than 8,000 acres UT owns in its Cumberland Research Forest.
UT intends to use revenue from the natural gas and oil produced to then conduct research on the environmental impacts and best management practices of fracking.
Any contract UT enters into with a company would have to come back before the State Building Commission for approval.
That step is likely several months away, said Larry Arrington, chancellor of the UT Institute of Agriculture.
The subcommittee heard from two dozen members of the public, most of whom were activists concerned about environmental impacts and transparency.
Because research funding would be tied to the productivity of the well and its revenues, the research could not be considered objective, Gwen Parker, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, told the committee.
“I felt the conflict of interest point was not fully understood,” she said after the meeting. “So I think our next step would be to follow up and make sure it’s communicated better.”
State Comptroller Justin Wilson asked questions throughout the testimony about both the potential for research bias and accusations that UT had tailored the RFP to a specific company. He ultimately voted in favor of the proposal.
The University of Tennessee on Thursday asked a state panel to delay taking up the school’s fracking research proposal for 30 days to allow more time to meet with concerned residents and environmental groups, reports the News-Sentinel. A caravan of at least half-dozen university officials made the trip to Nashville, but decided before the meeting to request a deferral from a subcommittee of the State Building Commission, UT Agriculture Chancellor Larry Arrington said.
“I’d have rather gotten it done (Thursday), and I believe we could have done it. But it feels right to wait 30 days and let people have their say,” Arrington said. “But we were here and we felt like we needed to be in that room in case somebody wanted to say something.”
The standing room only meeting of the executive subcommittee was to approve documents that would allow UT to start the bidding process with companies interested in drilling wells on university land on the Cumberland Plateau.
Once UT enters talks with the winning bidder, the lease would have to come back before the full State Building Commission for approval.
UT is seeking approval to conduct research on the environmental effects of hydraulic fracturing, a newly popular and controversial natural gas extraction method.
A coalition of a about a dozen environmentalists, including staff from the Southern Environmental Law Center and members of the newly formed Frack-Free Tennessee group, a newly formed group, also attended Thursday’s meeting.
“I think our presence here may have made a small difference,” said Eric Lewis, who formed the Frack-Free Tennessee group last fall. “I don’t think UT would have deferred unless they thought they were going to lose.”
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Environmental groups are asking a committee of the State Building Commission to prevent use of a gas drilling technique at a forested tract owned by the University of Tennessee.
According to the Knoxville News Sentinel (http://bit.ly/VW0TqC ), the Southern Environmental Law Center asked, on behalf of a half-dozen environmental groups, that fracture drilling, or fracking, not be allowed in the Cumberland Research Forest.
A letter to the commission’s executive subcommittee states UT is dragging its feet on public records requests and asks the panel to defer action on drilling until the public is better informed of university intentions.
“Now UT has started behaving like an oil and gas company, and saying, ‘We’re just going to do what we want,'” said Renee Hoyos, director of the Tennessee Clean Water Network, one of the groups represented in SELC’s letter sent to subcommittee members. “I don’t think UT is doing its due diligence by acting this way. It’s a university and it needs to hold itself to a higher standard.”
UT is asking to solicit bids to lease part of the 8,000-acre tract in Morgan and Scott counties. The university said it would use revenue from leases to fund studies into the environmental impact of fracking.
The drilling technique is used to extract oil and gas from shale. A well is drilled vertically and then horizontally, and water and chemicals can then be pumped into the well to fracture the rock and free the minerals. Because the shale lies at shallower depths in Tennessee than elsewhere, drillers often use nitrogen rather than water to extract the gas.
The committee meets Thursday, and UT has requested a waiver of appraisals to assess the value of the land and its mineral deposits.
In a prepared statement, UT officials said they delivered the requested public records last week but that it took seven weeks to prepare them. Officials noted the scope of the request, inclement weather and holiday university closings.
Michael Burton, a supervisor in the state Department of Environment and Conservation, tells WTVF-TV that he regrets responding to citizen emails on the department’s new “fracking” rules with remarks described as rude, dismissive and condesending. NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Burton, “Did you write stupid on some of these comments?”
“I did,” he admitted.
Why did he do that?
“It was a time of frustration and I vented my frustrations on paper,” he answered.
Burton said that his notes were never meant to be public and he apologizes.
“Do you think people opposed to fracking are stupid?” NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked.
“No, not at all,” Burton responded.
One of the comments he underlined and called stupid claims hydraulic fracturing has left “homes and farms abandoned, livestock gone” in other states.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, “What’s wrong with that comment?”
“There’s no recorded incident of that happening anywhere in the United States because of fracking,” Burton responded.
But, in Louisiana, 17 cows died after coming in direct contact with hydraulic fracturing fluid.
Despite concerns from residents and environment groups, the Tennessee Oil and Gas Board approved new rules Friday for the controversial natural-gas extraction practice known as fracking, according to The Tennessean. Officials with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation said the regulations provide oversight and will help protect residents if large-scale fracking takes place in Tennessee.
Fracking, or fracturing, is a method in which water and chemicals are injected into shale to break apart rock and release natural gas. The practice can already legally take place in Tennessee.
“Anything we pass today is more stringent than what we have now,” said Jonathon Burr, a program manager with TDEC’s Division of Water Resources.
Still, residents and environmental groups said the state should take more time to put in place rules that protect the public and Tennessee’s water resources. In some states, regulators have found cases in which fracking has led to water pollution.
“Our water table is the most precious natural resource that we as Tennesseans own,” said Richard Diamond, a retired attorney and member of the Swan Conservation Trust in Lewis County. “We can live without natural gas but we cannot live without water.”
Friday’s meeting of the Oil and Gas Board lasted all day and was its last before it merges with the Tennessee Water Quality Control Board on Monday. The six-member board approved the new rules 5-0, with member Peter Claussen leaving before the vote was taken.
The new rules contain pages of technical requirements on how gas wells should be drilled and monitored. The rules also include a public notice requirement and a provision requiring that gas operators disclose in post-drilling reports what chemicals were used in fracking, unless they are considered a trade secret.
At a Tuesday public hearing in Knoxville Tuesday, there were many opponents of the controversial method of drilling for natural gas in deep shale and tight formations — called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” reports the News Sentinel. About 50 people attended the hearing at the Knoxville field office of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. A second meeting was held Tuesday night.
The meetings were the latest step in an 18-month process by TDEC, as it tries to iron out standards and guidelines for fracking, which has basically been unregulated in Tennessee. A wide range of environmental groups and concerned individuals have also weighed in with their opinions.
The practice of fracking requires large amounts of water and chemicals to be injected at high pressure into the shaft, freeing the flow of natural gas.
About a dozen people spoke at Tuesday’s afternoon meeting, with most warning of dire consequences unless stringent guidelines are eventually written in law for fracking in Tennessee.
Sierra Club representative Axel Ringe said “two-thirds” of Tennessee will eventually be targeted for natural gas extraction via fracking.
Among the risks commonly associated with fracking are groundand surface water contamination, and degradation of natural habitat due to excessive water and chemical use in the drilling process.
Ringe said it’s imperative to get the rules and regulations right before fracking becomes commonplace in the state.
“This gives us time to set up regulations that are truly protective,” said Ringe.
Limestone resident Trudi Tolliver said she’s concerned that fracking could contaminate her well-water.
“I depend on a well for my drinking water,” said Tolliver.
“I would like to ban it (fracking) completely in our state. We need more evaluations on the health risks.”
Tennessee’s oil and gas industry successfully opposed passage of a law this spring to regulate fracking, the controversial practice of cracking the rock deep underground to more quickly release natural gas, reports Anne Paine.
And as the state is poised to update its mining regulations, the industry has firm seating on the board that will make the final decision on any rules, a fact that environmentalists say is part of a too-cozy relationship between regulators and those regulated.
Fracking is growing nationwide in areas with gas-rich shale, and it’s been blamed in some areas for tainting well water. Questions also have arisen about possible links to earthquake tremors.
But so far, fracking is not on the table as the state Department of Environment and Conservation proposes changes in mining rules.
“One of our concerns is that TDEC reached out to the oil and gas community and basically asked them to help write the regulations and never asked us,” said Renee Hoyos, with the Tennessee Clean Water Network. “They’re silent on fracking.”
From the News Sentinel
Opponents of “fracking” – a technology for extracting natural gas – filled a hearing room in Knoxville on Tuesday night, calling for more stringent regulation of the oil and gas industry.
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation held the hearing on proposed regulations – but the proposals do not mention fracking, which injects water and/or chemicals into shale formations to extract the natural gas.
About 100 people attended the meeting at the Knoxville office of TDEC. The hearing was preceded by a sign-waving rally along Middlebrook Pike. A second public hearing on the proposed regulations is planned for 6 p.m. April 28 at the TDEC office, and written comments will be accepted until May 9.
About half of the 35 registered speakers voiced their opposition to the proposed regulations – and specifically to “fracking” – in the first hour and 20 minutes.
For the full story on News Sentinel webiste, click HERE.