Environment

The chair of Kentucky’s workgroup formulating potential changes to the commonwealth’s oil and gas regulations says he believes state laws adequately protect drinking water resources, even with the release of more details from the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA released the final report on the impacts of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on drinking water last week.

In the report, the EPA found the possibility that fracking for oil and gas can affect local drinking water at every stage in the process, from withdrawing water for fracking from rivers to disposing of the frack water after the operation. The EPA found certain conditions are more likely to result in drinking water contamination, like when there are spills of fracking chemicals, when the wastewater is stored in unlined pits or when there are mechanical failures in drilling wells.

“The things that are outlined the report generally deal with things that happen when there’s either an accident or the rules weren’t followed,” said Rick Bender, executive adviser for the Department of Energy Development and Independence and chair of the state’s Oil and Gas Workgroup. “So if you construct your pits properly, if you construct your wells properly, you minimize any chance of groundwater contamination.”

The workgroup modernized the state’s oil and gas regulations in 2015, before Bender became chair. Now, the focus has turned to examining the disposal of radioactive waste from out-of-state drilling operations. Bender said he didn’t believe the EPA report contained any surprising conclusions and didn’t merit re-examining Kentucky’s regulations.

Lane Boldman of the Kentucky Conservation Committee disagreed.

“Surely since the EPA has revised their own assessment in this new report, then it seems logical that the state would also go back and make sure their bases are covered and that they’re considering all situations,” she said. “Because you only have one chance, correct? I mean, you only have one chance to make sure it doesn’t become contaminated. It’s better to be preventative under the circumstances.”

Fracking is used to extract oil and gas from wells in Kentucky, especially in the eastern part of the state. But the fracking here generally uses nitrogen rather than the massive amounts of water and chemicals that are used in deeper formations and are linked to some water contamination in the EPA’s report.

But over the past few years, oil and gas companies have begun exploring the Rogersville Shale. If that formation is ever proven viable, Bender said companies would likely use water-intensive fracking to extract the natural resources.

Erica Peterson is WFPL's Assignment Editor.