Ensuring the Implementation of Protective Practices is Key to Responsible Energy Development

by Teresa Marks

As the former Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality director for almost eight years, I know firsthand how important it is for states to work closely with EPA when it comes to protecting human health and the environment. That’s why when I was asked to be the EPA Administrator’s new principal advisor for Unconventional Oil and Gas (UOG), I was excited to get another firsthand perspective on how hard EPA works to coordinate with states. Today, we released the draft assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources, and I wanted to take some time to tell you about what we are doing to support states.

States play the primary role in the day-to-day activities relating to the regulation of unconventional oil and natural gas development. EPA, like states, has a vested interest in responsible oil and natural gas development so as to ensure adequate safeguards for air, land, and water. With that goal in mind, we recently worked with states on this through our support of the National Governors Association’s state learning network on responsible shale energy development—a program where states share protective practices to protect public health as shale energy resources are being developed.

We feel it is important for industry, states, tribes, academia, and EPA—working in collaboration—to explore the implementation of protective practices in the field—and particularly how we can transparently demonstrate that they have been properly and fully applied. For example, technology has both advanced and become less expensive meaning real-time monitoring of storage vessels at a well site may be done remotely and in real time. No longer is an annual physical audit the only way to determine if a protective practice is in place.

In addition, transparency of information is a minimum expectation by communities of both the industry and the government when it comes to responsible unconventional oil and natural gas activities. Technology and transparency are powerful tools that can optimize efficiency, reduce risk, save capital, and help prioritize resources for industry and states. Technology and transparency are two examples of how to ensure implementation of protective practices. Working together with states and other stakeholders on these efforts to ensure the implementation of protective practices is vital to minimizing potential risks and increasing public confidence in responsible energy development.

EPA will continue to support states’ efforts by sharing our expertise and experience, and by serving as a convener—to bring states, tribes and industry and others together to raise the bar on performance. In the future we will be meeting with stakeholders to explore and encourage the implementation of protective practices being implemented in the field. Working together to support transparent implementation of best practices that keep pace with innovative technology, can both minimize potential risks and increase public confidence that unconventional oil and gas production and development is happening safely and responsibly.

About the author: Teresa Marks is principal advisor for Unconventional Oil and Gas.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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EPA Works with Oil & Natural Gas Producing States

About the author: Rob Lawrence joined EPA in 1990 and is Senior Policy Advisor on Energy Issues in the Dallas, TX regional office. As an economist, he works to insure that both supply and demand components are addressed as the Region develops its Clean Energy and Climate Change Strategy.

I recently attended a meeting that serves as an example of how EPA collaborates with state agencies, including those agencies with functions not contained within the traditional state environmental agencies. In December 2002, then EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman and then Governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee entered into a Memorandum of Understanding between EPA and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC). The MOU was subsequently revised and renewed twice and currently runs to May 2009.

image of Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission

The IOGCC was congressionally chartered in 1935 as an organization of the governors of the oil and natural gas producing states with the mission to promote conservation and efficient recovery of the nation’s oil and natural gas resources while protecting health, safety and the environment. The states are represented by officials from energy and minerals agencies, public utility commissions, oil & gas conservation commissions and natural resources departments. Examples of the participating agencies include: North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, and the Railroad Commission of Texas.

The MOU created a Task Force made up of seven states (currently Texas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Arkansas, Kansas, Alaska, and Montana) and six EPA units (Regions 6, 8, & 10, Office of Water, Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, and Office of Congressional and Inter-agency Relations) and meets a couple of times a year. The Task Force works to better understand the differing missions of the parties; conduct in-depth explanations of positions, regulations and policies; seek opportunities for greater cooperation, and generally to improve the working relationship between EPA and the state oil & gas regulatory agencies.

As a participant in most of the Task Force meetings held over the last 5 years, I can say that having regular, face-to-face meetings has improved the dialogue between the agencies in both substance as well as demeanor.


Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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