Thoughts on HB 1026 | Green Arkansas

Monday, March 2, 2009

Thoughts on HB 1026

Posted By on Mon, Mar 2, 2009 at 10:21 AM

HB 1026 came out of a Senate committee last week and will probably be voted on very soon (The bill passed the House recently).  The bill would require a majority of members of the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission to have experience in the development, production or transportation of oil and gas.  It seems to me like an attempt to stack the commission with industry insiders.  What's the need for this?  Why is this all of the sudden a major concern of the legislature?  Why does the governor support it?  I can answer that last question after speaking with Matt Decample, the spokesman for Governor Beebe, last week.  Here is his statement:

When it was established it had a majority. Boards and commissions tend to have a majority of people with experience. You see it with medical boards, agricultural boards - those things are going to be stocked with people who have experience. So this is not an unusual or extraordinary situation. The governor recognizes that the board currently has a lot of activity and people have a lot of concerns about the environment and we recognize that. We understand the concerns but we don’t see that level of risk that others fear.

Rod Bryan, at the Arkansas Conservation Alliance, looks at the situation a little differently than Beebe.  Here's a statement from Bryan.

The Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission is the first stop for purveyors of the Fayetteville Shale yet the commission lacks the scientific expertise, communication skill and political will necessary to appropriately disclose potential environmental and health risks to the public. The increased authority given to the Oil and Gas Commission regarding the Fayetteville Shale is becoming a missed opportunity to improve the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Health.

The Oil and Gas Commission has become much more than a commission. It has grown into an agency. An unrecognized, undefined agency is a dangerous prospect for the people and its government. While the “agency” portion of the current commission should definitely be populated by a majority of people with oil and gas experience, the board is an entirely different matter. It should be as diverse as possible.

Many legislators have defended the Oil and Gas Commission by mentioning Director Lawrence Bengal by name and saying what a great job he is doing. It is time to define his role, and those who follow him in the future, as director of an agency that is governed by a board or put the Oil and Gas Commission under the jurisdiction of another agency through a restructuring process. Annual sessions will provide ample time for such a task. Passage of hb1026 would have to be “undone” to achieve such a restructuring. Arkansas Interim Resolution 2007-004 was perhaps an abbreviated attempt to initiate such a process but it never made it out of committee.

In many states, like Pennsylvania and New York, the Oil and Gas Commission is a subsidiary of the State Environmental Protection Agency. Pennsylvania hired 36 Environmental Inspectors for the Marcellus Shale before drilling began.

Arkansas has approved funding for, but not hired, 4 inspectors for the Fayetteville shale and 3,000 wells have already been drilled. The AOGC website is written by and for oil industry people. It begs for more input from scientific, health, educational and communication professionals. If passed, this bill sends the message that Oil and Gas Exploration supersedes science, agriculture and human health in Arkansas. 

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