Politics

With support from an unlikely partnership of industry and environmental advocates, a Kentucky House committee on Tuesday approved a bill that would regulate hydraulic fracturing—or fracking—for natural gas.

The fracking process extracts natural gas by drilling deep into the earth and injecting water, sand and chemicals to release gas from shale formations up sometimes over two miles underground.

The House proposal would impose several regulations on the fracking industry, including water quality testing near injection sites, disclosure of the chemicals that are injected underground and a requirement that companies protect or reclaim land around injection sites.

“It’s not only good for the oil and gas industry but it’s good for environmental protection purposes as well,” said House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, a Democrat from Sandy Hook who sponsored the bill.

Tom FitzGerald, director of environmental group the Kentucky Resources Council, said there are “arguments to be made” that fracking has more negative than positive impacts, But he nonetheless supported the bill, saying it would regulate fracking’s inevitable growth in the state.

“What this bill does for the first time in 21 years is an attempt to extend some protections to landowners that are not there currently,” FitzGerald said. “This General Assembly does not pass a ban on high-volume horizontal fracturing.”

The bill would not regulate where the oil and gas industry can extract or dispose of water used in hydraulic fracturing.

On Wednesday, the Kentucky Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will hold a public hearing on whether to authorize the first permit for deep horizontal natural gas drilling. So far the state has only permitted vertical test wells to be drilled.

Vickie Spurlock, a rural Madison County resident, said she was concerned by companies buying up land and leasing mineral rights in her area, citing stories from other states that connected fracking to water contamination, health problems and even earthquakes.

“I’m extremely concerned for our health and safety as well as our land, water and home,” Spurlock said during the committee hearing.

After the meeting she said she was disappointed that more opposition to the bill hadn’t been voiced.

“I’m a landowner, I’m a constituent and there are other people in my community that need to be heard just like I have been,” Spurlock said.

Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, a progressive advocacy group, said more discussion is needed to study how fracking might impact land and communities. In a statement, KFTC chairperson Dana Beasley Brown asked for a moratorium on fracking until a study is completed.

“We know from the experiences of other states (some that have placed moratoriums or limits on hydraulic fracking) that the impacts are significant,” Brown said in the statement.

New York state passed a two-year fracking ban in 2014.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.