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Tracking fracking in Indiana

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In a best-case scenario, hydraulic fracturing safely and efficiently maximizes production of oil and natural gas, freeing new, abundant energy resources locked in shale deposits beneath the Earth’s surface.

In a worst-case scenario, the process known as fracking taints the air, ruins groundwater and creates toxic byproducts from fluid pumped at high pressure to fracture geological formations.

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Fracking has been used in the oil and gas industry since at least the 1940s, but what’s changed and brought the practice into public consciousness is scale. The volume of fluid – a mix of water, sand and chemicals – and the pressure at which it’s pumped into wells have increased markedly, said Herschel McDivitt, director of the Indiana Department of Natural Resource’s Division of Oil and Gas.

Indiana hasn’t seen fracking booms comparable to those in Pennsylvania, New York, Texas and the Dakotas, but drilling companies have stepped up hydraulic fracturing in recent years in the southwestern part of the state. McDivitt said fracking is most commonly done here to recover methane from coal beds and in vertical oil wells.

“Actually it’s kind of exciting to see because it means operators are having some success in increasing productivity,” McDivitt said. “There’s nothing in the oil and gas business that stimulates interest as much as somebody having success.”

The laws in Indiana have kept pace in the past two years with the

rise in fracking. Operators now must file reports with Division of Oil and Gas after a well has been fracked. The reports must include such information as the amount and source of water used, the chemicals used, how much water was recovered, and what was done with the recovered water.\

shublak Shublak

“The General Assembly in the last two legislative sessions enacted bills to deal with coal-bed fracking and conventional oil and gas fracking,” said Mark Shublak, a partner at Ice Miller LLP in Indianapolis. Shublak has lobbied for the industry and represents CountryMark, a farmer-owned refinery and the largest oil and gas producer in the Illinois Basin, which includes southern Illinois, southern Indiana and western Kentucky.

“I do think the existing rules provide a comprehensive framework for the Division of Oil and Gas to take rulemaking to fill out the gaps of what is needed in the hyrdrofracking area,” he said.

Attorney William Illingworth is a partner in Jackson Kelly PLLC in Evansville and general counsel for the Indiana Oil & Gas Association.

He said laws enacted in the past two years represent a consensus that balanced industry needs with environmental protections. “It’s kind of our view that we’ve already done what needed to be done,” Illingworth said.

Shawn Gallagher, who operates Gallagher Drilling Inc. in Evansville, has been surprised at misconceptions about a practice that’s been used more than 60 years and one he believes has benefits, such as much lower natural gas costs, that have been unappreciated.

“It’s estimated that hydraulic fracturing has increased reserves from oil by about 30 percent and natural gas about 90 percent,” Gallagher said. “It’s had a very positive impact on our economy.”

Matt Stone, president of the Indiana Oil & Gas Association board of directors, said there’s also public misconception that drillers use the process haphazardly when the opposite is true. “If the fractured treatment doesn’t go where we want it, it would result in a lost hole,” he said.

McDivitt said he’s given presentations around the state regarding fracking. The public is curious in part because of concerns raised most notably in Pennsylvania, where large-scale operators drilling the Marcellus shale have poured millions of gallons of fracking fluid at a time into wells.

illingworth Illingworth

“That isn’t representative at all of what we’ve seen in Indiana,” McDivitt said. Wells here are much shallower and deposits of gas and oil are smaller.

As an illustration, McDivitt notes in his presentations that the largest fracking fluid volume per well to date in Indiana is 402,339 gallons, compared with as much as 10 million gallons at a time on the Marcellus shale. But the total volume of fracking fluid used annually in all operations in Indiana has soared from about 1 million gallons in 2008 to more than 4 million gallons in 2012.

The New Albany shale formation in southern Indiana holds the promise of abundant natural gas, but McDivitt explained it’s not proven cost-effective for operators to use hydraulic fracturing to capture it, and the differences in geology also present challenges. “If you can’t match the technology and the methods to what is needed” to produce natural gas, he said, “you go elsewhere.”

Opponents of fracking say the process has caused devastating environmental degradation and harmed public health where it has occurred on a large scale. A Pennsylvania health company announced this month that it received a $1 million grant for a comprehensive study of the health effects resulting from fracking there.

focus_fracking_map.jpgMcDivitt acknowledges concerns that come with fracking and notes it this way in his PowerPoint presentations: “The accelerated development has been brought into the marketplace so rapidly that traditional means for guarding against potential adverse impacts, whether real or perceived, have not kept pace with the expectations of those who could be impacted by the increased development.”

Still, he said laws enacted in the past two years give the Division of Oil and Gas latitude to adopt rules that would require additional regulations should the need arise. He noted that fracking reports are made available to the public on the division’s Web page and include all the disclosures the law requires. “Our intent is to make this information as available as we can,” he said.

But Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, said he doesn’t believe laws passed recently go far enough. He introduced House Bill 1209, which would require operators to get advance DNR plan approval before fracking. Similar legislation has stalled twice in previous Statehouse sessions, and industry officials and Pierce agreed it’s unlikely the bill will get a hearing in the GOP-dominated Legislature.

Nevertheless, Pierce said he filed the bill because he’s heard from constituents who’ve seen news reports and documentaries regarding fracking elsewhere that depict health risks and scenes such as kitchen sink taps said to be made flammable due to natural gas seepage in water supplies after nearby wells were fracked.

“Obviously, people don’t want their tap water catching on fire and don’t want their water table contaminated,” Pierce said. “The important point is for the Legislature and the Department of Natural Resources to get out in front of it.”
 

Pierce_Matt.jpg Pierce

Pierce said he’s not heard of environmental issues arising from fracking in Indiana, but the state should take note of developments elsewhere. “Most of our laws and regulations are kind of geared to what you do after the fact when you have contamination,” he said. “States are really playing catch-up. … It’s better to have a proactive approach.”

But industry officials believe the regulations as they exist fit Indiana and offer environmental protection. Gallagher noted that most operators in Indiana are small, family-owned businesses with a handful of employees trying to responsibly maximize production, unlike the massive operations in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.

“We’re not apples and apples,” Gallagher said.•

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  • terrified
    I am terrified to see Fracking going on not only in Indiana but in Knox county. Water is the most important resource we have any where. It will be the new gold, and we can't live without it and we can live without gold. How ignorant are people?
  • concerned
    I would Really love it if for once fossil fuel miners could consider the health and safety of citizens before they pump hazardous materials into and out of OUR earth. There needs to be more proactive less reaction. Money shouldn't be the only motivation when clearly it always is.

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  1. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  2. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  3. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

  4. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

  5. Brian W, I fear I have not been sufficiently entertaining to bring you back. Here is a real laugh track that just might do it. When one is grabbed by the scruff of his worldview and made to choose between his Confession and his profession ... it is a not a hard choice, given the Confession affects eternity. But then comes the hardship in this world. Imagine how often I hear taunts like yours ... "what, you could not even pass character and fitness after they let you sit and pass their bar exam ... dude, there must really be something wrong with you!" Even one of the Bishop's foremost courtiers said that, when explaining why the RCC refused to stand with me. You want entertaining? How about watching your personal economy crash while you have a wife and five kids to clothe and feed. And you can't because you cannot work, because those demanding you cast off your Confession to be allowed into "their" profession have all the control. And you know that they are wrong, dead wrong, and that even the professional code itself allows your Faithful stand, to wit: "A lawyer may refuse to comply with an obligation imposed by law upon a good faith belief that no valid obligation exists. The provisions of Rule 1.2(d) concerning a good faith challenge to the validity, scope, meaning or application of the law apply to challenges of legal regulation of the practice of law." YET YOU ARE A NONPERSON before the BLE, and will not be heard on your rights or their duties to the law -- you are under tyranny, not law. And so they win in this world, you lose, and you lose even your belief in the rule of law, and demoralization joins poverty, and very troubling thoughts impeaching self worth rush in to fill the void where your career once lived. Thoughts you did not think possible. You find yourself a failure ... in your profession, in your support of your family, in the mirror. And there is little to keep hope alive, because tyranny rules so firmly and none, not the church, not the NGO's, none truly give a damn. Not even a new court, who pay such lip service to justice and ancient role models. You want entertainment? Well if you are on the side of the courtiers running the system that has crushed me, as I suspect you are, then Orwell must be a real riot: "There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever." I never thought they would win, I always thought that at the end of the day the rule of law would prevail. Yes, the rule of man's law. Instead power prevailed, so many rules broken by the system to break me. It took years, but, finally, the end that Dr Bowman predicted is upon me, the end that she advised the BLE to take to break me. Ironically, that is the one thing in her far left of center report that the BLE (after stamping, in red ink, on Jan 22) is uninterested in, as that the BLE and ADA office that used the federal statute as a sword now refuses to even dialogue on her dire prediction as to my fate. "C'est la vie" Entertaining enough for you, status quo defender?

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