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Official: Ark. natural gas regulations sufficient

Arkansas' top environmental official said Tuesday she believes her department has "sufficient" regulatory authority over natural gas drilling in Arkansas but says she wants to keep additional inspectors funded through an agreement with the Game and Fish Commission.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas' top environmental official said Tuesday she believes her department has "sufficient" regulatory authority over natural gas drilling in Arkansas but says she wants to keep additional inspectors funded through an agreement with the Game and Fish Commission.

Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality Director Teresa Marks told lawmakers that she believed the current regulations on natural gas drilling are sufficient. She spoke at a hearing on proposals to increase regulation of natural gas drillers and a process they use called hydraulic fracturing.

Marks said she hopes the department will be able to continue paying for four additional inspectors through an agreement with the Game and Fish Commission using money from the lease of state lands to a natural gas firm.

The state hasn't spent all of the money, more than $1 million, through the agreement, but it ends on June 31, 2012, Marks said. She said the agency hopes it can extend the agreement to continue using the money, which pays for four inspectors in the Fayetteville Shale area.

"Right now we feel like we have sufficient regulatory authority although if we lose these inspectors we still have a real problem with resources," Marks told members of the House and Senate Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development committee.

The Fayetteville Shale, an organically-rich rock formation underlying the region, is a major source of natural gas in Arkansas. Drillers free up the gas by using hydraulic fracturing or "fracking," which requires injecting pressurized water to create fractures deep in the ground.

At the hearing, some residents of the shale region said they were worried about the impact the process has on water quality and called on stricter regulation. Marks said the agency is also waiting to see what an Environmental Protection Agency study says about the impacts of natural gas drilling.

"When they're through with those tests, there may be some additional regulations that we would need in place," Marks said.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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