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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. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  2. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  3. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

  4. When I hear 'Juvenile Lawyer' I think of an attorney helping a high school aged kid through the court system for a poor decision; like smashing mailboxes. Thank you for opening up my eyes to the bigger picture of the need for juvenile attorneys. It made me sad, but also fascinated, when it was explained, in the sixth paragraph, that parents making poor decisions (such as drug abuse) can cause situations where children need legal representation and aid from a lawyer.

  5. Some in the Hoosier legal elite consider this prayer recommended by the AG seditious, not to mention the Saint who pledged loyalty to God over King and went to the axe for so doing: "Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints: Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul. Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God's first. Amen."

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