Faulkner County Judge Preston Scroggin announced his intent to do what is in his power to regulate the “massive monster” that is local oil and natural gas excavation industry.
As it stands, the process of using chemically laced water for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is not under federal regulation.
Scroggin said his constitutional office limits his capacity to addressing damages imposed to county roads and enforcing their maintenance.
“People call here a lot and they think we have more power than we do,” Scroggin said.
Reports of damaged or polluted wells, air quality concerns and possible illegal activity have come to the County Judge’s office since the Fayetteville Shale Play began in the area.
“This is all I can do to them. All I can do is monitor our roads. If we get reports from a citizen about something they consider to be illegal, we give them the appropriate agencies to talk with. We try to help them as best we can. I keep a book of agencies on hand and I usually refer them to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality,” Scroggin said.
Scroggin and Road Foreman Glen Willhite are experimenting with soil stabilizers to address air quality near drilling sites and on regular routes used by contracted trucking companies.
According to Willhite, a well site requires more than 2,400 loads of materials.
“Some of these people near wells live on dirt roads. Dust is a big problem, and we are trying to find a product to control it. We are trying to get ahead of the curb. We study on these problems all the time,” Scroggin said.
According to Teresa Marks, director of the ADEQ, 17 reports specific to Faulkner County have reached the department in the calendar year.
Eight complaints have pertained to possible water contamination instances from industry activities.
According to Marks, the agency is not mandated to monitor personal wells, but complaints are investigated.
Statewide, the agency has followed several instances of the illegal dumping of waste water.
“We have not been able to connect the fracking activity with (contamination), but we can’t rule it out either. Certainly we want to be aware of it if there is an issue,” Marks said.
Scroggin said the local industry should “get ready.”
“I’m going to hold their feet to the fire. In the next couple of months we are going to hold it to them in a big way. I’ve told them that they are on notice. They are going to fix our roads or they are going to have to get out. They’re going to pay their way or not drill. They can take me to court.”
At Tuesday night’s meeting of the Quorum Court, a Guy resident asked Scroggin if he and the court would consider drafting legislation to regulate the industry in his area.
Scroggin’s answer for now is to subject operators to permits so he knows where they are “at all times.”
“With the permits I’ll know the roads they are using. They will be pre-designated routes. We’ve been running into trouble with contractors because the operating company will tell them to do a job and they’ll use different roads. They should be liable for those other damages too. This is a way for us to keep up with what’s going on up there.”
The Federal government will have to take care of the rest, Scroggin said.
“The bigger issue of regulating these practices is something that’s way above me and my little constitutional office. I think hydraulic fracturing is something we will see more and more scrutiny on. The water is something that is scaring people,” Scroggin said.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s website, the agency is currently conducting a hydraulic fracturing study.
“EPA agrees with Congress that there are serious concerns from citizens and their representatives about hydraulic fracturing’s potential impact on drinking water, human health and the environment, which demands further study. EPA’s Office of Research and Development will be conducting a scientific study to investigate the possible relationships between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water,” the website says.
In 2005, the agency declared that the activity posed little to no threat to the quality of drinking and ground water. Congress later exempted the industry’s process from federal regulation. That decision is now under review by the EPA.
Marks said her organization has not drawn a correlation between the two.
“We are on the edge of this thing exploding. This has helped our economy here. People have the best jobs they’ve ever had. At what cost? What about our roads, creeks, streams, our environment? I don’t know. I don’t much care for seeing countryside cut up and scarred. I do believe in using our resources, but using them wisely,” Scroggin said.
According to Scroggin, relations have been cordial between operators and his office.
“They will remain as such as long as they are good guests. If they try not to do their part for our citizens and our roads, I’ll act accordingly. So far we’ve been decent and we’re going out of our way to keep it like that. They’re doing what we’ve asked. The next three or four months will tell.”
Scroggin said he and Willhite have received information in advance that shows the Greenbrier area to be a formidable drilling site in the future.
“They are moving to Greenbrier to drill under the city and toward the Holland area. I do not know exactly when, but it will probably happen in the next 12 to 18 months.”