State agency could offer public comment period on fracking projects

A rig drilling in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. A number of Kenai Peninsula residents advocated for more opportunity to weigh in when companies apply for hydraulic fracturing permits in Alaska. (Image: BLM-Alaska)

The Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (AOGCC) is proposing a ten-day comment period for applications to use hydraulic fracturing on an oil or gas well. The proposal falls in-between what environmental groups and the industry say is sufficient opportunity for public input before a well can be fracked in Alaska.

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AOGCC, the state agency that oversees oil and gas drilling, also proposed posting fracking applications on its website, although companies would have the opportunity to redact information deemed confidential.

The commission made the announcement Jan. 25 in response to a proposal by Cook Inletkeeper, an environmental group. The group said current fracking regulations don’t give the public enough opportunity to weigh in. It had asked for a 30-day comment period and a public hearing when a company applies to frack a well.

Cook Inletkeeper executive director Bob Shavelson said the proposal for a ten-day comment period doesn’t go far enough.

“It’s a good step forward but it’s still a fairly tepid effort to provide real notice and comment opportunities for Alaskans to look at fracking applications that could potentially affect groundwater and salmon streams,” Shavelson said.

The Alaska Oil and Gas Association, a petroleum industry group in the state, is reacting cautiously to the proposal and is still reviewing it. Joshua Kindred, the group’s environmental council, said his initial thoughts are that the regulation could be worse for industry, but he still has concerns.

“This is unnecessary and it doesn’t actually provide remedies. All it does is provide delays and increased costs,” Kindred said. “To be completely candid, this isn’t as onerous as what was originally proposed.”

Whether hydraulic fracturing poses a significant threat to groundwater is hotly debated. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently concluded impacts are possible “under some circumstances.” The industry disputes that conclusion.

A hearing on the commission’s proposal is scheduled for March 23.

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Elizabeth Harball is a reporter with Alaska's Energy Desk, covering Alaska’s oil and gas industry and environmental policy. She is a contributor to the Energy Desk’s Midnight Oil podcast series. Before moving to Alaska in 2016, Harball worked at E&E News in Washington, D.C., where she covered federal and state climate change policy. Originally from Kalispell, Montana, Harball is a graduate of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

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