Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What the FRACK

I must have some sort of magnetic force for gas drilling issues. They seem to follow me everywhere! When I was at school in NYC, the Marcellus shale was geared up for rampant exploitation. I ran away home to find that they were fracking the Fayetteville shale. Now, it's the Surat Basin coal seams.

Last week, a group of mining and drilling protesters showed up on the lawn at the Tor Street complex. It seemed like they were using it as a staging ground for the main picket at the Surat Basin Energy and Mining Expo that was in full swing at the Toowoomba showgrounds. All the other DERMites were busy away in their hidey-holes, but I ventured forth to see what was up. That led to a couple of interesting conversations about mining and drilling in Queensland, and I got contact info for some folks I hope to sit down with later to learn more. They seemed interested in hearing about what we were facing in Arkansas, too. I love cross-pollination! Hopefully I can have some conversations that might be useful to us back home.

In terms of my research, coal seam gas (CSG) development had been off of my radar-- it was more of a personal interest thing. That changed today when CSG became a hot topic in a meeting between DERM, stakeholders, and the MDBA. One irrigator, concerned about energy company extractions from aquifers without accountability, said, "until the CSG industry operates on a sustainable level, we aren't interested in talking [about further cuts]." These companies apparently have some sort of immunity through the law that prevents them from being held to account within the Murray-Darling Basin planning process. Thus, irrigators are continuously required to decrease their water use while the CSG companies go unregulated and are even able to access new water. This particular irrigator said that he and others in his area have been operating on 50% use in cooperation with state regulators and without compensation for years, and this has been accepted by the community, but they aren't willing to make any more cuts without someone dealing with the CSG conflict. As government bureaucracies love to do, the MDBA shunted responsibility off to the state by claiming it wasn't in their jurisdiction to deal with the issue. The farmer retorted by arguing that if they would only interpret their enabling legislation in the correct manner, they would be able to include the CSG company water use as "take" and place them under the same plan that everyone else is being called to abide by.

These situations always seems to end up at the "interpretation" quandary. The same case is constantly made by Arkansas environmental groups seeking adequate environmental protection actions from ADEQ and other regulatory agencies. You can be as technical as you want, go all out on your scientific studies, but at the end of the day it really comes down to politics.

Hmm... maybe I should keep looking at Political Ecology PhD programs...

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