Tighter fracking disposal regs heard; 18-year-old officeholders debate continues

The Nebraska Legislature from the rear balcony (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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February 17, 2016 - 5:32pm

In the Nebraska Legislature, oil industry representatives opposed a plan to tighten regulations on the disposal of fracking fluid in the state; while debate continued on allowing 18-year-olds to hold elective office.

The proposal on fracking was introduced following controversy over the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s approval of a disposal well in western Nebraska’s Sioux County last year. The well was intended to handle fluids left over from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, of wells in Colorado and Wyoming. But it ran into objections from neighbors over projected truck traffic, as well as potential water pollution.

The bill proposed by Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala, chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, would allow the commission to require periodic sampling and reporting of fluids disposed of in injection wells. It would also authorize regulation of companies that transport such fluids, tighten financial requirements, and authorize more public notice and hearings of disposal applications.

The bill was supported as a first step by environmental groups including the Sierra Club and Bold Nebraska. But Janece Mollhoff, reading a letter from author Mary Pipher, questioned the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s dual role of regulating the industry and promoting the development of oil and gas.

"I’m not sure why we even need an agency to promote fossil fuels in our state. Why are we subsidizing intenational corporations by promoting and facilitating their work profits and lack of regulations in our state? Why don’t we have an agency to phase out fossil fuels and promote clean energy?" Pipher wrote.

The bill would actually change intent language in the law from promoting the development of oil and gas to permitting it while promoting the health, safety and environment of the public.

Oil and gas industry representatives opposed the bill. They said they were already well-regulated, and further measures called for in the legislation were unnecessary. Among those speaking was Dave Haack of Z & S construction, which operates a disposal well in western Nebraska. Haack said the commission already has authority to require testing of disposal fluids, and testing is done before a well starts operating. But he said requiring it to be done at least once a year, as the bill would do, is unnecessary.

"You give them a sample of what you’re going to put down the well when you apply for the permit, Haack said. "You take one sample and 10 years from now you take another sample and you get the same result."

The committee also heard testimony on a proposal by Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm to require liability insurance of between $1 million and $5 million dollars per injection well, depending on size, and prohibit injection wells in areas where aquifers are within 50 feet of the surface, or extend more than 100 feet deep.

No immediate action was taken on either bill.

In legislative debate, discussion continued on Sen. Tyson Larson’s proposal to allow people as young as 18 to run for office in Nebraska. Currently, you have to be 21 to run for the Legislature, and 30 to run for governor or lieutenant governor or be appointed to the Supreme Court.

Larson originally proposed reducing all of those to age 18; now an amendment proposed by Sen. Adam Morfeld would keep the minimum age at 30-years-old for the Supreme Court.

Still, Sen. Ernie Chambers opposes the idea, which would require voter approval. "The very act of our sending such a lame-brained notion to the public to vote on reflects negatively on the Legislature. Our job is to use good judgment and do those things which that judgment would dictate that we do," Chambers said.

Larson suggested Chambers was filibustering against this proposal because he opposes another Larson proposal, which would legalize and regulate fantasy sports betting. "He can criticize, name call, and put me down, as he will most of you during your legislative careers, because that’s how he operates," Larson said. "Or we can rise above, like we should, rise above the pettiness that is being displayed, and debate things in the Legislature on what they should be debated on, instead of who introduced it and I don’t like their next bill so I’m going to filibuster this one."

When Chambers asked Larson for an example of his name-calling, Larson said he had called him "Senator Arson." Chambers, who is 78, said taking offense at that was an example of Larson, who’s 29, being "juvenile."

Larson’s proposal would not make Nebraska’s minimum age limit for legislature or governor lower than any other state’s. In fact, 16 states allow 18-year-olds to run for legislature, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. And nine states allow 18-year-olds to be governor, according to the Council of State Governments.

The Legislature adjourned before reaching a second-round vote on Larsons’ bill. That could take place Thursday.



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