Enviros cloud drilling debate with 'fearmongering' and 'McCarthyism,' state officials say

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- State oil and gas regulators are frustrated with how environmental groups are portraying drilling.

Gathering here this week, they shared stories of "fearmongering," misinformation and "scientific McCarthyism." Wyoming's top oil and gas official alleged "greed" was driving some pollution complaints, but he has since apologized (EnergyWire, June 7).

"These groups will use whatever they can to advance their agenda," Alabama Oil and Gas Supervisor Nick Tew said. "They should be ashamed of themselves."

Tew was referring to a flap that erupted when a drilling company proposed leasing land in the Talladega National Forest in eastern Alabama (EnergyWire,, April 19). He said environmental groups had people in the area "scared to death."

A lease sale was scheduled yesterday, but Tew said there was "zero potential" for development because of the geology of the area.


Cathy Foerster, a member of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, commiserated.

"I think history will look back at this era as a time of scientific McCarthyism," Foerster said.

The irritation suggests some of the underpinnings of the debate about who should regulate the nation's oil and gas production boom. State regulation is preferred by industry, which considers federal regulators, primarily U.S. EPA, to be in the thrall of national environmental groups. Environmentalists say they do not feel that they get a fair shake from state officials.

Unlike EPA, most state oil and gas agencies have a dual mandate to both police and promote oil and gas development (Greenwire, Nov. 30, 2011).

The leaders of many of those agencies convened this week in Vancouver for the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, which also includes several Canadian provinces. The commission was created more than 70 years ago as an alternative to federal regulation when officials decided there needed to be controls on oil production and prices.

The meetings of the IOGCC end with a roundtable of sorts, at which the top state oil and gas officials from each state and province share details of the drilling scene in their state. That can include basic production data, frustrations such as the environmental debate and some good-natured ribbing and boasting about production.

Bill Sydow, director of the Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, blamed misinformed environmentalists for his state's role in blocking approval of the Keystone XL pipeline (E&ENews PM, May 31).

"Nebraska really brought that to a halt, due to environmental activists who scare people," Sydow said. "Unfortunately, a lot of people don't understand the properties of the earth at all."

He said some of the people who spoke at the hearings against the pipeline did not understand that aquifers are rock formations that also have water in them.

"I found it disconcerting to see people speaking about an aquifer," he said, "talking about it as a cavernous system you could put a motorboat on and drive down to Texas."

At Michigan's most recent lease sale, protesters burst into state offices to disrupt the sale.

"The ironic thing is they're focusing on deep and horizontal drilling. We've had our Antrim Shale play going since the 1940s," said Hal Fitch, director of Michigan's Office of Geological Survey. "There's 11,000 wells, and each one of them has been fractured and we haven't had one environmental problem. That doesn't seem to get us anywhere as far as trying to tell the facts there."

David Porter, who oversees drilling in Texas as one of three members of the Texas Railroad Commission, said a top focus of his agency is the ongoing battle with federal officials to maintain control of oil and gas regulation. His commission sided with Range Resources Corp. when EPA brought a water contamination case regarding drilling near Fort Worth. EPA recently dropped the case, and the official who brought it resigned after video surfaced of him using the word "crucify" in relation to his enforcement strategy (Greenwire, April 30).

"We're one of the few state agencies that has enough manpower to double-check and look over the shoulder at what the EPA is doing in certain circumstances," Porter said.

Other state officials urged their colleagues to send in comments opposing the Bureau of Land Management's draft rules for hydraulic fracturing. The IOGCC resolutions committee unanimously passed a resolution opposing the BLM proposal as duplicative.

One state director, Larry Bengal of Arkansas, aired a problem he'd had with an oil and gas driller. The company, he said, wasn't letting inspectors onto its drill sites unless they called ahead, citing safety concerns.

"I didn't think it was a very good public message to be sending," he said.

Bengal said he was surprised by the different reactions he got when he talked to other state agencies. Some said they were used to such demands, while Alabama's agency has inspectors carry bolt cutters for such situations.

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