|Updated: 3/24/2011 5:53 am
||Published: 3/23/2011 4:59 pm
LITTLE ROCK, AR - Controversy over natural gas drilling in the Fayetteville Shale makes it to the capitol. Hundreds of gas industry workers protested bills setting up stricter environmental regulations.
Natural gas drilling is the economic engine in north central Arkansas and when you bring up regulation, it's going to get a response.
The natural gas industry rallying hundreds to the capitol steps to voice opposition to a suite of bills designed to strengthen regulations.
"It’s a natural state, we want to keep it natural and so do the gas companies,” Robert Mobley of Logan County says.
A few counter-protestors too showed up at the capitol steps, using song and signs to get their point across.
“They say it is regulated but there are anywhere between 3 and 10 people monitoring 10,000 – 20,000 wells,” Lindsey East says.
For Don Underwood of Quitman, he says his livelihood counts on natural gas drilling.
"We need to protect the environment, we need to protect the industry, we need to protect the jobs and there are ways to do it,” Underwood says. “Another government bill isn't going to help any damn thing at this point."
Representative Homer Lenderman (D-Brookland) HB1394 looks to increase regulation of water quality in the shale play.
“This bill is not to harm an industry," Lenderman says. "I want Arkansas to prosper but we know there are risks involved."
Public comment split in support and opposition of the bill. Josh Spencer of Conway says his business has grown exponentially since natural gas exploration began.
"I know there are some people who are not happy with this industry because it has not positively affected them but for the greater good it has impacted thousands of Arkansans and changed their lives and their futures," Spencer says.
That sentiment was more than enough to send Lenderman's bill to defeat on a voice vote and send a message for other similar bills.
HB 1392 & HB 1395 from Rep. Greg Leding (D-Fayetteville) and HB 1393 & HB 1396 from Rep. Kathy Webb (D-Little Rock) were discussed briefly and both bill sponsors moved the legislation to interim study.
The study gives legislators more than a year to discuss the idea before the next legislative session.