Friday, May 22, 2009

Conservation Public Hearing and the Big Question

While I don't intend this forum to be a news source for local events, I think it's important to note a public hearing that took place last night in Shreveport. Staffers from the Office of Conservation, part of the State Department of Natural Resources, which regulates oil and gas activities in Louisiana, held a hearing to listen to comments to its recent order to establish operating standards for the Haynesville Zone.

Underlying the specific issues is the big picture question of control. Who has the right to create and enforce the rules for drilling? It's the state versus the local governments. The state, though the Office of Conservation, has proposed regulations that would target drilling and ancillary activities to help balance the impact on the surrounding uses. The Caddo Parish Commission has come up with its own set of rules that are somewhat more stringent than the state's and are based largely on rules enacted in the Fort Worth area based on that community's experience with the Barnett Shale. Here are a couple of good articles about the situation (Shreveport Times, KSLA).

Already a state appellate court has ruled that the city of Shreveport can't prohibit drilling around Cross Lake, its drinking water source, because it infringes on the Commissioner of Conservation's authority, so it appears that the state starts with the upper hand. But what about regulating drilling-related debris on the highways? Seems like the local government should be able to regulate this.

In the end, the hearing was just that, a venue for listening. The head of the commission, James Welch, didn't make the trip, citing the fact that the Legislature is in session and he was needed in Baton Rouge (good point because the Legislature does need to be tightly supervised), so it was just staffers listening. It is unfortunate, however, that he wasn't there because he is the one who makes the final decision. His decision is about a month off, but the big picture control issue won't go away any time soon.

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