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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. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  2. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  3. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

  4. "...not those committed in the heat of an argument." If I ever see a man physically abusing a woman or a child and I'm close enough to intercede I will not ask him why he is abusing her/him. I will give him a split second to cease his attack and put his hands in the air while I call the police. If he continues, I will still call the police but to report, "Man down with a gunshot wound,"instead.

  5. And so the therapeutic state is weaonized. How soon until those with ideologies opposing the elite are disarmed in the name of mental health? If it can start anywhere it can start in the hoosiers' slavishly politically correct capital city.

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