Monday, January 12, 2009

Violators of water rules don't share details of problem or ideas for solution

Facilities mum on violation solution
Posted on Monday, January 12, 2009
The company that owns two facilities used to discard water used by natural-gas drillers is remaining silent about how it will fix violations that led to emergency orders halting disposal operations.

The two facilities, Fayetteville Shale Land Farm in Lonoke County and Central Arkansas Disposal in White County, are owned by Fayetteville Shale Land Farm LLC. Both permits are registered to Ron Carl, and each lists the same Carlisle address.

Attorney John Peiserich of Perkins & Trotter PLLC, a Little Rock-based environmental law firm, represents the company. He said he couldn't comment because his client was "in the middle of enforcement action negotiations" with the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality.

"I'd just as soon not make any comment, but we've met with them and are attempting to resolve these issues," Peiserich said.

The two facilities remain closed. Teresa Marks, the Department of Environmental Quality's director, said Fayetteville Shale Land Farm expects to remain closed until spring.

A typical land farm, as such facilities are called, has two large plastic-lined ponds where water and rock sediment discarded after drilling is stored. When one pond is full, the owner can submit water samples to the Environmental Quality Department and if approved, the water from that pond can be used to irrigate crops while the other is being filled.

According to Environmental Quality Department records, Central Arkansas Disposal has the largest ponds in the state, holding up to 180,000 barrels of the castoff water. Among the other 11 facilities in the state, the smallest ponds hold 25,000 barrels each. Each barrel is 42 gallons.

Central Arkansas Disposal is accused of maintaining a third pond about two miles away from the primary facility and pumping the water through underground pipes into the reservoir.

After a nearby property owner reported seeing dead fish in streams on his land Dec. 4, the department investigated. The inspector reported finding a "large unlined, unpermitted waste treatment reservoir" that was emptying into Raft Creek, which feeds the Steve Wilson/ Raft Creek Wildlife Management Area in White County. Central Arkansas Disposal was ordered to stop operations on Dec. 12.

The Fayetteville Shale Land Farm was cited Dec. 3 for allowing the water to run off the property after irrigation. Under the terms of the permit, drill water must be completely absorbed by crops, leaving no puddles or runoff.

The fluid is generated by companies drilling for natural gas in the Fayetteville Shale, a geologic formation that stretches from north-central Arkansas to the Mississippi River.

A man who answered the phone at Searcy-based Central Arkansas Disposal said no one there would be making any comment.

Marks said the department is working with Central Arkansas Disposal to develop a plan for fixing the violations.

"I actually went to the site to visit with them," she said. "It sometimes helps me to have a visual, particularly if there's significant interest from adjoining landowners or significant outcry from the public."

Marks said the department often works with any permit holder in violation because it saves time since their remediation plans must be approved by the department before implementation.

"We've not gotten any final documentation at this point, but this has been given to enforcement," she said. "Their position is that it was an accidental release into the reservoir.

"They did acknowledge that drilling waste did get into the reservoir, but that the reservoir was for holding water for irrigating farm land and that no drill waste was supposed to get into it," Marks said.

She said pipeline valves to the off-site reservoir had been closed.

Marks said there are 13 such facilities licensed to operate in Arkansas. Of those, 11 have had violations within the past few months that have resulted in enforcement action. It usually takes about two months from the date of inspection before sanctions are levied. Violations ranged from not having the proper clearance at the top of ponds - 24 inches minimum is required - to irrigating with more water than was approved by the department.

The largest fine in recent history was levied against Comer Mining Corporation in Sebastian County in December for $19,400, Marks said. The company's violations included:

No records of when, where and how much of the water was used to irrigate crops.

Not submitting reports to the Department detailing the origin, transporter and volume of the water taken in.

Flooding one field with the castoff water and mud.

Not submitting the required water and soil samples to the department.

Inspectors discovered the violations after inspections in March 2007 and in February, June and August.

Marks said fines can be as much as $10,000 per day of being in violation and that the department considers issues such as whether harm was done to the environment, whether the act was intentional and whether the company involved has a history of violations.

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