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Fracking in Indiana: Regulations? We don’t need no stinking regulations!

Indiana Div. of Oil & Gas slideshow: 'Hydraulic Fracturing 101' title slide
Indiana Div. of Oil & Gas slideshow: 'Hydraulic Fracturing 101' title slide
Photo by L. Ethridge; Slideshow by Indiana Division of Oil & Gas

Indiana’s policy on fracking seems to be: Regulations? We don’t need no stinking regulations!

Believe it or not, Indiana law does not truly regulate hydraulic fracturing. The state only requires a company to file a report after the job is over, the fracking accomplished and the wastewater disposed of. Only then is the company supposed to file a report with the Indiana Division of Oil and Gas describing what water sources it used, what chemicals were used (every chemical need not be specified), how much water was used, and how the wastewater was disposed of.

'Hydraulic Fracturing 101'

In a 2013 presentation in Evansville about hydraulic fracturing in Indiana, Herschel McDivitt, director of the Indiana Division of Oil and Gas, reportedly said that over 27.1 million gallons of fracking fluid had been used in the state over the last eight years, mostly in southwestern Gibson County. Indiana operations had used between 150,000 gallons to over 2 million gallons of fluid per fracking well. He said that further regulation of the industry could be “overkill”.

The Indiana Division of Oil and Gas, has put together a slideshow entitled, ‘Hydraulic Fracturing 101’, in which the department says that the cumulative volume of fracking fluid per well can reach as high as eight million gallons. One slide declares that state oil and gas laws have always regulated fracking and notes that most of those laws came into effect in the 1940’s. This would mean the laws touted by the Division of Oil and Gas actually predate the widespread use of fracking by more than half a century and were enacted when the fracking industry was still in its infancy. The hydraulic fracturing industry has changed dramatically in the last ten years, the composition of the fracking fluid is continually changing, but the laws regulating the industry are stuck back in the mid-twentieth century. The percent of wells fracked per year in Indiana rose from 16 percent in 2010 to 30 percent in 2011, 42 percent in 2012, and 74 percent in 2013.

U.S. Geological Survey to test for water pollution from fracking

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), hydraulic fracturing can affect surface and groundwater quality through activities at the well head as well as road construction leading to the well head, leaks during or after hydraulic fracturing, leaks from pits or tanks, chemical spills, the discharge of wastewater onto the ground surface, failed casing seals, pipeline breaks, deep-well disposal of wastewater, abandoned wells and induced subsurface migration.

The state Division of Oil and Gas has said that there are no confirmed instances of pollution from fracking wells in Indiana. Of course, without baseline testing of the wells and disclosure of the exact chemicals used at a fracking well, it is very difficult to pinpoint the source and extent of contamination. The USGS, however, announced in 2012 that it was planning to conduct a one-year investigation of groundwater quality where fracking has occurred in southwestern Indiana to provide technical support for the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. The Indiana Dept. of Environmental Management had requested the survey because of complaints of petroleum and oilfield brine constituents in private wells.

What’s the fuss?

One of the slides in 'Hydraulic Fracturing 101' asks, 'What’s the fuss?' The conclusion of the Indiana Division of Oil and Gas, as revealed in the slideshow, is that concern about fracking is simply the result of misplaced passions and shallow understandings of the issue.

Dr. Norma Kreilein, a pediatrician at Daviess Community Hospital, expressed frustration with the state's refusal to address pollution in the May 27, 2014, edition of the Indystar.com. The doctor noted that Indiana’s rate of infant mortality under the policies of Governors Mitch Daniels and Mike Pence has dropped from 32nd in the nation in the year 2000 to 47th in the nation in the year 2013. She pointed to the failure of the Indiana Dept. of Environmental Management (IDEM) to properly monitor, permit and investigate industries. She said that birth defects spike during times when atrazine is applied (in farming operations), that only 23 of 92 counties have any air quality monitors and only six counties monitor highly toxic nitrogen oxides. Concentrations of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) are not analyzed, and coal-fired power plants emit 'atrocious' amounts of mercury. Statistics show that IDEM is wrong, she said, when it claims that nearly all of Indiana meets federal pollution limits. 'Placentas and preemies won’t tolerate pollution or fake statistics…..'

The shallow understanding that 'Hydraulic Fracturing 101' refers to may actually be that of Indiana officials who are so eager to promote the state to big business that they refuse to see that they are trampling on the rights of ordinary people to live in a clean and healthy environment.

This is the third article in a three-part article on hydraulic fracturing:

Other articles by this author include: