State reviews fracking regulations

The Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is reviewing a set of regulations aimed at alleviating public concerns about hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – in the state.

Hydraulic fracturing is also known as fracking. It’s the process of pumping pressurized fluids into oil and gas wells.

The fluids include fine particles, like sand, that prop open the new cracks allowing more petroleum products to be released.

Companies have been fracking in Alaska for decades. One of the major concerns about the process is how the chemically enhanced fluids could affect groundwater.

AOGCC’s proposed regulations aim to ease some of these concerns. Companies would have to notify all landowners within a half a mile of the drilling well of their activities. They would also have to sample the water in all of the water wells before they started fracturing.

Kara Moriarty of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association says this requirement will lead to higher costs for the companies.

“And whenever there’s increased cost there could be ramifications on overall production and resource extraction,” Moriarty said. “And from our standpoint that’s a risk that could be associated with these proposals.”

Moriarty says they could just sample four wells instead of all of them.

She and other industry representatives also find fault with requirements to let the public know all of the chemicals used in the fracturing fluids. She says they are fine with disclosing most of the chemicals, but they don’t want to give away the exact mixture.

“If they can’t get their recipe protected, as they continue to evolve and make their practices better, AK may miss out on the opportunity to have the latest and greatest recipe out there for enhanced recovery and environmental protection,” Moriarty said.

But Barrett Ristroph of the Wilderness Society says that the new regulations don’t go far enough, especially since Alaska may eventually be home to unconventional oil shale fracking. Though she supports the new water sampling rules and full chemical disclosure, she says the regulations also need to address flaring. That’s the burning of gases, like methane, that are released during the drilling process.

“It’s an issue here in Alaska. The regulations are very general about flaring. They just say something along the lines of “we need to prevent waste” but it doesn’t give any specifics about, say, we need to install this kind of technology on the well so we won’t be letting all this gas into the air,” Ristroph said.

But Commissioner Cathy Foerester says that the tough parts of the regulations that protect ground water, like ensuring well integrity and controlling underground injections, are already in place:

“We aren’t reviewing our regs because we feel they are inadequate, we’re reviewing them primarily to ensure that we’re up with current technology and operating practices. But the big thing we’re doing to address public concerns is that we’re creating a new section titled hydraulic fracturing.”

That way people know where to look to see if their concerns are addressed.

The commission will review the comments submitted during the hearing and within 30 days will either create the new regulations or ask for another round of comments on their revisions.

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