Senate debates putting ‘fracking’ under environmental protection

Sen. Tick Segerblom’s bill to give the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection control over oil companies seeking licensing to produce oil by “fracking” was essentially termed unnecessary by that agency during a Tuesday hearing.

Fracking is the process of pumping a mixture of mostly water and sand into the ground to free oil and gas deposits trapped thousands of feet below the surface in rock and shale structures. It has been around since the 1940s but more recently has raised serious concerns that it could cause groundwater pollution and other problems because of other chemicals in the mix designed to increase the flow of oil.

The issue has been raised in Nevada because companies including Noble Mining are preparing to use that process in eastern Nevada’s Railroad Valley, south of Elko.

“Do you need this bill to do your job?” asked Natural Resources member Sen. Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, during the hearing.

“We to have authority already we could use,” said Colleen Cripps of NDEP.

She and officials from the Division of Minerals told the committee the two divisions are already splitting different steps in the process, from inspecting the construction of bore holes to evaluating and recording the types of chemicals being pumped into the wells to make the oil flow.

This is different from a traditional oil well, which pumps crude out of the ground, because “potentially you’re injecting things into the ground,” Segerblom said.

“We’d like to see the Division of Environmental Protection be the primary agency for permitting this process because the environmental agency deals with pollution and with groundwater,” he said.

Kyle Davis of the Nevada Conservation League said the bill doesn’t ban fracking in Nevada, that it just puts a regulatory framework around it. He said Minerals handles permitting for drilling, but that “we felt the way fracking for oil and gas is done, I think is significantly different from that.”

Opponents including Paul Enos representing Noble said the proposed measure is too restrictive because it involves finding out which chemicals and how much of them are being injected into the wells. Officials from the Minerals division agreed in part, pointing out that they can ask what chemicals are involved ahead of time but that no one knows how much of each chemical is injected in a well until after the process is finished.

Committee Chairman Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, said he was inclined to look at SB390 as “preventative.” He questioned why NDEP wouldn’t be involved in different parts of the process and was told by agency officials they already are involved.

“I’ll tell you I don’t think it’s a bad idea,” he said.

He told the oil and gas representatives, conservationists and the state divisions involved to try work out something “that makes sense.”


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