AOGCC offers alternate proposal for fracking permit comments

After hearing a request to make hydraulic fracturing permits subject to public hearings and comment, the state oil and gas regulatory oversight group Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (AOGCC) has issued its own proposal that requires online posting of fracking permit applications and allows public comments, but does not include public hearings.

The conservation nonprofit Cook Inletkeeper submitted a proposal in October 2016 to make permits for fracking subject to a section of the Alaska Administrative Code which would mandate public hearings and a 30-day comment period. Other oil and gas permits are already subject to the same requirements, including those for certain types of drilling waste disposal, exceptions to well spacing requirements, and using a single well for both production and injection.

For fracking permit applications, current AOGCC rules only require notification and release of fracking permit applications to those living within a half mile of the well that will be fracked, said Bob Shavelson, the executive director of Cook Inletkeeper.

A permit to frack in Cook Inlet is pending for BlueCrest Energy, which began drilling a well on its 38-acre wellpad between Anchor Point and Ninilchik on Nov. 27, 2016. BlueCrest eventually plans to have 20 wells — 10 production and 10 injection — at the site, some of which will be fracked for oil. BlueCrest voluntarily released its permit application to Cook Inletkeeper, which made it available online.

In previous interviews, Shavelson has said Cook Inletkeeper has no specific concerns about BlueCrest’s fracking — at 7,000 miles beneath the floor of Cook Inlet, the fractures it will create are not expected to affect groundwater — but submitted its hearing proposal in the expectation that future fracking projects will arise closer to populated areas in Cook Inlet and elsewhere in Alaska.

At a Dec. 15 hearing at which the three AOGCC commissioners heard testimony on Cook Inletkeeper’s proposal from Shavelson and others, BlueCrest president and chief operating officer John Martinek opposed adding public hearings to the fracking permit process, saying AOGCC’s present regulations on fracking “are some of the most stringent in the United States,” and that “AOGCC staff includes highly trained personnel who have been extremely diligent in their critical review of industry operations.”

“Their technical capabilities to oversee each hydraulic fracturing procedure is much more acute … than someone from the general public,” Martinek said.

AOGCC released its alternative proposal Wednesday. It will have a hearing on March 23.

“It’s a good first step, but I think there needs to be a lot more if you want to give Alaskans opportunity to engage in a meaningful way,” Shavelson said of the AOGCC alternative, which in addition to eliminating the public hearing, opens a permit to comments for 10 days, rather than the originally requested 30-day comment period.

AOGCC’s proposal also states that “if the (tracking) application contains confidential information the operator shall submit, for this posting, an additional copy of the application with all confidential information redacted.”

Shavelson said although the language is very general, “it appears they’re allowing oil and gas corporations to decide what’s confidential and keep secret anything they don’t want to show, when it should AOGCC that decides what Alaskans should see and not see.”

In response to questions about the alternative proposal, AOGCC Special Assistant Jody Colombie wrote in an email that “the AOGCC will not reveal its deliberative process and cannot discuss a matter pending before it.”

Shavelson said he plans to give more testimony at the March 23 hearing, but said Cook Inletkeeper hasn’t yet decided what its comments will be.

The Dec. 15 hearing on Cook Inletkeeper’s original request drew an opposing statement from Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre, delivered at the hearing by Navarre’s special assistant for oil and gas projects, Larry Persily.

Persily said Navarre believes that “the state does not need a public hearing on every well that goes in in Alaska, that there are sufficient safeguards, sufficient public access to drilling applications and that adding a public hearing for every well just isn’t needed and isn’t going to solve the problem for people concerned about fracking pro and con.”

Written opposition was submitted by BlueCrest and fellow oil and gas producers ConocoPhillips and Glacier Oil and Gas, as well as the trade group Alaska Oil and Gas Association. All were in agreement with Martinek’s written statement that “the (fracking) regulations as currently constructed provide ample protection and public input.”

Reach Ben Boettger at ben.boettger@peninsulaclarion.com.

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