24 November 2014

Sidley Shale Gas and Hydraulic Fracturing Report

Volume 3, No. 47

Federal

Forest Service reverses ban and allows limited oil and gas leasing in National Forest. On November 18, the U.S. Forest Service reversed its proposal to ban the use of hydraulic fracturing completely in the George Washington National Forest. Instead, the land and resource management plan for the forest will allow oil and gas leasing to continue on approximately 10,000 acres. The 1.1 million acre forest, the largest national forest on the east coast and a popular place for campers, hikers and hunters, contains the headwaters of the Potomac River which supplies water to population centers downstream, including Washington, D.C. Only a handful of wells have been drilled in the forest since the 1990s, but the Bureau of Land Management has estimated that there is a high potential for oil and gas to be found within the forest. The Forest Service currently leases approximately 5.3 million of its 193 million acres for oil and gas development.

States

Boulder, CO extends moratorium on oil and gas drilling. Boulder County extended its drilling moratorium until mid-2018, formally extending the ban that originally went into effect in 2012. County commissioners approved the extension as they await the results of a study that will evaluate the air and water impacts of oil and gas drilling. The $12 million study, funded by the National Science Foundation and led by the University of Colorado, is not expected to be completed until 2017.

Pennsylvania representative expands investigation of waste management practices. Representative Matthew Cartwright (D-Pa.) expanded his investigation into how states are handling waste from hydraulic fracturing operations, contacting regulators in Ohio and West Virginia, in addition to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection he contacted last month. Rep. Cartwright sits on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. He has previously proposed legislation to roll back the environmental exemptions for oil and gas waste. Rep. Cartwright asked the states for three years of data on investigations and complaints, along with details on state permitting and monitoring of waste haulers.

Litigation

Judge denies injunction to block Illinois hydraulic fracturing permits. On November 21, a Madison County judge denied an injunction in the first lawsuit to challenge the Illinois fracking rules, finding that environmental groups and landowners failed to demonstrate they were in immediate danger. Following publication of the rules in mid-November, southern Illinois landowners, along with environmental groups, filed suit in state court seeking an injunction against the publication of new regulations that would allow the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to issue hydraulic fracturing permits. The suit raises various procedural claims, including that the state allegedly failed to provide the required notice for public hearings, did not consider certain studies when developing the regulations, and failed to respond to public questions during a public hearing.

NGOs file suit challenging permitting of waste disposal facilities. On November 19, two environmental groups filed suit in Franklin County Court challenging approvals by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for approximately 20 waste disposal facilities which handle wastewater from hydraulic fracturing operations. The complaint alleges Ohio DNR bypassed the official rulemaking process required to permit such facilities. The facilities have been authorized by temporary permits issued by DNR pending new final rules to be issued by the department that will further regulate these disposal sites. The complaint challenges the temporary authorizations and seeks an injunction compelling DNR to implement permanent regulations before allowing these disposal facilities to accept hydraulic fracturing wastes.

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