Legislature may take up fracking yet this year

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April 28, 2015 - 5:58pm

Legislation on the disposal of fracking water in Nebraska may be added to controversies the Legislature has to deal with the last month of its current session.

Last week, the Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission approved a scaled back version of Terex corporation’s application to dispose of water from hydraulic fracturing in Colorado and Wyoming in an abandoned oil well in Sioux County. The decision came despite a request by seven state senators for a delay in the decision. Tuesday, leaders of two environmental groups said the Legislature should respond by passing a law putting a moratorium on such disposal. Jane Kleeb is with the group Bold Nebraska. "The Legislature is already talking about fracking waste. They called for a moratorium on it. We are specifically urging them to put that in a formal bill to specifically stop any potential fracking waste wells either proposed or current that could be happening until we have proper spill response plans, until we have proper disposal plans," she said.

The legislative session is scheduled to end June 5. With major debates and decisions on subjects ranging from the budget and taxes to the death penalty and workplace discrimination, and only 20 working days remaining in the session, getting legislation through would be difficult. But Ken Winston of the Nebraska chapter of the Sierra Club said it’s possible. "There is time if there’s the will. And I recognize that it is the 70th day of the Legislature. It would be a challenge. The speaker would have to provide a special priority to do it, or another bill would have to be amended to make that happen. But it can be done and we would encourage the Legislature to do that," he said.

Speaker of the Legislature Galen Hadley was one of seven lawmakers who signed the letter asking the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission for delay. But Hadley said Tuesday he doesn’t want the Legislature to rush something through. "I understand how they would like us to do something right away. But I have a concern of not doing the right thing and not doing it the way we should," he said. "That’s why I think we ought to have a study on this this summer because this is a long term problem. It’s just not somebody wanting to come over in the next two months and drop something. I see this as a longer term problem, so we want a long term fix," he said.

Nevertheless, Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha said he is having legislation drafted to require disclosure of what’s in fracking water. Chambers said he will ask the Legislature to suspend the rules to allow the legislation to be introduced.

Kleeb also had another request for official action. "We’re also asking Gov. Ricketts to actually say a word on this issue since he has been completely silent and it is clear that Nebraskans want some action on stopping this type of fracking waste," she said.

Ricketts spokesman Taylor Gage said the governor has commented, but largely about the process the Oil and Gas commission used. In a brief interview in the hallway outside his office, Ricketts was asked about the possibility of a legislatively-imposed moratorium. "The commission followed their process and followed their rules with regard to how they proceeded on this," he replied. Asked if he approves of the outcome, he reiterated "Like I said, the commission followed their process and followed their own rules on it. The commission gets to make these decisions, and that’s what the decision they made was."

In the long run, Kleeb said, the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission should be replaced. "We think that the Oil and Gas Commission is fundamentally flawed – that you can’t regulate the Oil and Gas Commission on the one hand and then promote the oil and gas industry on the other. So we are calling on the Legislature to actually dissolve the Oil and Gas Commission, and instead give those duties and responsibilities to the Public Service Commission, which is set up as an elected body, so our voters can hold them accountable. And they have a much (more) transparent process when dealing with rules and regulations," she said.

Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Deputy Director Stan Belieu said there is no inherent conflict in the commission’s dual mission. "Those two issues I don’t believe need to conflict in any way. Our number one goal is to protect water of the state of Nebraska. We take that responsibility very serious. That’s something that was delegated to us by EPA. We continue to work with them and ensure that not just this particular well but the 660 wells throughout Nebraska comply with all state and federal regulations," he said.

Belieu also said what’s in fracking water is already disclosed on the website fracfocus.org Chambers said if he can get his disclosure legislation introduced, it could be amended to call for a moratorium or other requirements.











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