Tom Kimmons / Director, Shirley Community Devel. Corp.
A couple of years ago, I gave a presentation to the Fairfield Bay Rotary Club on the pros and cons of drilling for natural gas in the Fayetteville Shale area. Most people agree that there is an upside and a downside to a gas industry in a scenic area like the Ozarks, with its natural beauty, clean rivers, clear creeks and pristine Greers Ferry Lake. The upside is potential jobs for local workers, royalties for land owners who lease their mineral rights, tax revenues for the county and getting our country off expensive foreign energy. The downside is increased truck traffic and degraded roads, potential noise pollution, air and water contamination and a threat to the image of “the natural state” as a lucrative tourist attraction that brings in long-term, sustainable dollars from our natural beauty and unique natural resources.
The obvious question that an impartial observer might ask is “Can we have both?”. Extreme views from both sides would say “no”, but, historical lessons from our past would argue otherwise. We have logged timber resources from the Ozarks for over one hundred years, sometimes wisely and sometimes not so much. We have harvested the abundant wildlife in the Ozarks for even a longer period, in both sensible and foolish manners. The question becomes whether any harvest of any natural resource is sustainable or not and if the gains outweigh the costs. Who profits and who loses?
Though logging in our area was widespread, it often led to over-logging, soil erosion, sedimentation, and consequently flooding. In a similar pattern, over-logging combined with over-hunting led to the near extinction of deer and turkey species, habitat loss, and restocking demands. The single most important alleviation of the problems caused by misguided logging and hunting activities was the introduction of BMPs (Best Management Practices). A few of these involved erosion abatement, re-seeding, reforestation, sediment traps, game management, harvest control, bag limits, etc. Best Management Practices in logging and hunting have proven to overcome the ill-effects of logging and hunting in such a way that we can answer the question “Can we have both?” in a positive manner. BMPs work. They have worked so well, in the case of deer, that we often have too many deer which can cause severe property damage and vehicular accidents.
Can BMPs be applied to the gas drilling industry in a similar manner as they have been to logging and hunting? I think they can. Anyone interested in seeing how voluntary BMPs work in a real life situation can visit the Gulf Mountain Wildlife Management Area in Van Buren County, near Scotland. The gas drilling pads there with 10′ high chain-link fences, sodded/artificial turf-lined drainage slopes, hay-bale silt collectors and air/water monitoring systems are attractive, clean and integrated into the wildlife setting. I have been working through the ARGD with representatives of the natural gas industry, environmental groups, state regulatory agencies, community development groups, congressmen and women and private individuals to develop a list of BMPs for the Fayetteville Shale area of Van Buren County. These BMPs include sections on a Land Owner Bill of Rights, Set-Back for Drilling Rigs from Occupied Residents, Construction Activities, Stream Crossings , Sedimentation and Erosion control, Closed-Loop Systems, Reserve Pits, Preserving Water Quality and Base-Line Water Testing. There has been input and discussion from all parties concerned and a willingness to cooperate by all parties, including the natural gas industry. These BMPs are being finalized and will be presented to committees of the Arkansas legislature in the ongoing legislative session. These preliminary BMPs won’t be perfect, or the final answer to the question of whether we can have both gas drilling and protected natural resources. But, BMPs have worked for a more balanced logging and hunting industry and offer a sensible and rational approach to a safer and cleaner natural gas industry.