Legislators fight to be gas lobby's biggest friend | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Legislators fight to be gas lobby's biggest friend

Posted By on Thu, Feb 2, 2012 at 1:08 PM

  • FRACKERS' CHAMPION: Jason Rapert.
The legislative shale caucus is meeting today. Did they actually once elect Sen. Jason Rapert as chair? He deserves it regardless. Nobody has pandered more to the gas lobby. Yes, there are Democratic panderers, too, and they are apparently competing today to see who can show the most fealty to gas producers, the Koch brothers and other corporate interests. All, naturally, oppose a reasonable severance tax on natural gas.

Rep. Linda Tyler of Conway was a small exception to the herd mentality. She suggested that Republican Sen. Michael Lamoureux replace Rapert as caucus chair because Rapert is too partisan. No, says Rapert, Tyler is too partisan. Silly. She and Rapert are likely to face each other in November for a Senate seat. Chairmanship or no chairmanship, Rapert will be pounding the gas company drum throughout the political season. The Koch lobbyist in attendance also twittered that Tyler is in a tiny number that hasn't yet expressed a desire to draw and quarter the president for delaying the Keystone pipeline. It'll be interesting to hear what she has to say on the subject. She's not exactly known as an environmentalist.

UPDATE: Tyler explained later that she opposes the severance tax and wants the Keystone pipeline built but favored a more positive resolution on the pipeline issue that wasn't so negative. Her full statement is on the jump.

Remember these demagogues when somebody wants to put a pipeline through the middle of your sensitive watershed or aquifer. They don't give a rat's behind about your water. They serve the gas companies first. Republicans in Nebraska have demonstrated a bit more sense of civic responsibility. They've been critical in holding up the Keystone because it was originally planned — with all its potential leaks and hazardous payload — to pass through a critical aquifer.

There'll be yammering from the Fayetteville shale caucus, too, about the supposed impact on the Welspun Tubular plant in Little Rock. As we reported this week, the job impact there has been exaggerated. 60 people who work part-time — not permanently — in shipping are not currently working. But they will have about 12 months of shipping work to do when the pipe is shipped. Continued jobs would depend on other work. The Keystone pipe has already been made, by the way, and is headed to TransCanada for this or other projects regardless. Some finishing remains. Meanwhile, some 500 people are at work at Welspun on this and other projects.

This is a good time to reprint a forceful op-ed piece written by Sam Lane of Greenbrier, an anti-fracking activist. He wrote one version for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to respond to Rapert. He sent me another. It follows. I doubt anyone with such clear thinking is likely to be invited to the Shale Caucus. He speaks for concerns beyond corporate interests.

By Sam Lane
Resident of Greenbrier and director of Stop Arkansas Fracking

“Fracking” in Arkansas
A response to Senator Rapert and the Shale Caucus

Recently the Democrat-Gazette printed a letter from state senator and Fayetteville Shale Caucus chairman, Jason Rapert. He talked about the economic benefits of the natural gas industry. He asked readers to consider what it would be like in Faulkner county, and the rest of the state, if we didn’t have the natural gas industry during economic hard times. As a lifetime resident of Arkansas, and 25 year resident of Faulkner county, this isn’t hard to imagine.

When I think about what it could be like, I picture two lane highways and dirt roads (without potholes) that wind their way through farms and rolling hills. I think about forest land filled with wildlife. I think about fishing, camping, and boating, on Greers Ferry Lake, the Little Red River, Woolly Hollow State Park, and the Cadron Creek. I think about the sound of the wind and a whippoorwill. I think of the good hard working people that have decided to make this area their home for the peace and quiet, and to raise a family. Not for an abundance of jobs or a booming economy.

Mr. Rapert has publicly stated numerous times that most of the people who are concerned with hydraulic fracturing, are from outside the shale area or are from other states.

This is one statement in a long line of misinformation that Mr. Rapert and the rest of the industry give to the public. He often points out that his district covers 80% of the shale area, yet he lives in Bigelow. His home is not within 20 miles of the closest gas well.

Mr. Rapert also spoke of his request to have the non-profit group STRONGER to review our oil and gas laws. He has stated publicly numerous times that he believes our laws are sufficient, but the review is to pacify those who believe that our laws are too lax. Now he says that if the review finds any flaws in our regulations, “I will be first in line to do what needs to be done to be sure that we protect both Arkansas’ natural resources and the jobs of Arkansas workers.” Mr. Rapert has so far done just the opposite, lobbying against any new laws or taxes on the industry. He vows to protect the jobs of Arkansans with no mention of protecting their health, property, or basic human rights.

He calls the natural gas industry an “economic engine”. Our tourism and farming industries have been Arkansas’s engine for generations. These industries still bring in more money than the natural gas industry could ever dream of,
but may not be around long with the effects of the natural gas industry. He has failed to react to complaints from his own constituents, but will listen when stakeholders from other states give their recommendations.

Mr. Rapert encourages everyone to convert their vehicles to compressed natural gas (CNG) using government rebates. The conversion costs about $10,000 for a light duty vehicle and there are currently only three stations in the state to fill up. He says many more stations are to come, but at $750,000 per station, that may not be true. CNG is only a viable option if prices stay at record lows. As more of the supply is shipped overseas and new regulations
cause prices to rise, CNG will not be a sustainable option.

The day after Mr. Rapert’s letter was printed, the EPA released their study from Wyoming, showing groundwater contamination from chemicals used in fracking, as well as methane. This certainly is not the first case of this, but the first extensive study to be released. It confirms the fears of many around the country. Mr. Rapert says it’s important not to ruin the economic gift our state has received with no mention of how important it is to not ruin our water, air, and land.

Water contamination is only one problem in a long list of negative effects from the industry. Residents complain of air pollution, noise and light pollution, road damage, and dangerous truck drivers. Forests are clear cut and land is deformed. Pipelines explode and earthquakes happen. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says the death rate for industry employees is 7 times the national average. The industry claims the process occurs far below our water when many gas wells are 1,200 — 3,000 feet deep. They tout how clean burning natural gas is but a recent study by Cornell University show when the extraction process is considered, natural gas is dirtier than coal or oil. They urge Americans to help reduce our dependence on foreign oil, yet much of this gas will be shipped overseas. They overstate the amount of jobs created for Arkansans, the amount of tax income, and the amount of extractable gas in the ground.

It is clear that there are problems, and that there is a potential for much larger problems. With hydraulic fracturing ramping up in southern Arkansas for oil production, and test wells being drilled in other parts of the state, Arkansans need to be aware of this process. They need to be aware of where their water and food comes from. They need to know they will pay higher taxes because of the damage this industry does while it’s here. When the gas and jobs are gone, whether that is sooner or later, Arkansas will be left holding the bag, and it won’t be full of money.


CONWAY, ARKANSAS — State Representative Linda Tyler of Conway reaffirmed her opposition to a proposed increase in the natural gas severance tax today at a meeting of the Arkansas General Assembly’s Fayetteville Shale Caucus.

“Today I voiced my opposition to the unnecessary plan to increase Arkansas’s severance tax on natural gas,” said Tyler. “The Fayetteville Shale Play presents us with an opportunity to generate more domestic energy production and is projected to create and support 11,000 jobs between 2008 and 2012 according to a University of Arkansas Walton School of Business study. We don’t need to put any burdens on our ability to create more domestic energy and jobs here at home.”

At the meeting, the caucus also discussed a resolution on the recent decision by the President of the United States to reject an application to build the Keystone XL pipeline across the important Ogallala Aquifer, which provides drinking water and irrigation to eight states.

Tyler objected to language in an initial resolution offered by State Senator Jason Rapert of Bigelow. She offered an alternative resolution that called for an expedited review and approval process for any future application to construct the Keystone XL pipeline, as well as for increased support for Arkansas’s natural gas industry. Tyler’s resolution was not heard by Rapert at the caucus meeting.

“I was unable to support the initial resolution presented to the caucus because I disagree with the negative tone that it conveyed,” Tyler said. “I believe that there is no room for partisan politics in the important issues that we debate within the Fayetteville Shale Caucus. We must put people first, always. Our focus is and should be on ways to grow the natural gas industry here in Arkansas so we can create new jobs within our communities, put people back to work, and generate more of the energy we use right here at home.”

“The alternative resolution that I offered presented a more positive approach that encourages the President and his Administration to expedite the review and approval process of any future application to construct the Keystone XL pipeline,” said Tyler. “My resolution also calls for more support and investment in domestic sources of energy, specifically the Fayetteville Shale Play. I understand that rhetoric will not create jobs, that’s why I am committed to working with anyone committed to expanding our natural gas and alternative energy industry here in Arkansas.”

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