What exactly did the passage of House Bill 69 do?
The primary intent of HB 69 was to streamline regulations to make it more economical for shallow gas (coal bed methane) developers to explore for gas. Since conventional deep gas well drilling on the North Slope is much different than shallow gas well drilling in coal seams, the bill gave the Alaska Oil & Gas Conservation Commission the ability to grant exemptions to shallow gas drillers from conventional deep well drilling methods and techniques that don't apply.
Did "take away" local control?
The passage of HB 69 did not take away local planning authority or control. In fact, the new law (AS 46.40.205) not only requires a "consistency determination" to identify whether shallow gas development is viable, but it also requires developers to obtain permits from municipal, state and federal agencies.
Can the state override locally enforced regulations?
Only under exceptional circumstances. Under , the state must issue specific findings stating significant reasons for granting such a waiver. The state has always had the authority, despite HB 69. In fact, courts have ruled several times, based on constitutional questions, that the state has "supremacy" (ultimate authority) to develop its natural resources, but again, only in exceptional situations.
Did HB 69 establish the shallow gas leasing program?
No. The shallow gas leasing program was established in 1996, while HB 69, addressing streamlining regulations, became effective in 2003.
Did HB 69 give authority to the state to develop shallow gas reserves under private and public land?
No. The state already had the authority to develop its resources granted by both the State Constitution 45 years ago under , and by the (i).
Do regulations exist that protect a property owner's water from shallow gas development?
Yes. Both federal and state regulations exist to protect "potable" (drinkable) water, prevent surface water contamination and protect water supplies used for agriculture. For example, the Federal Clean Water Act (the state has regulations that reflect the Act) closely regulates discharges into water supplies to prevent contamination. State law () prohibits pollution from shallow gas development as well, as regulated by the Department of Environmental Conservation. The state Oil & Gas Conservation Commission also closely regulates water quality, and will not authorize drilling unless strict guidelines are followed. In addition, state law () prevents "non potable" water produced from shallow gas development from being discharged onto the surface that could potentially enter lakes, rivers or streams.
What are the chances of shallow gas development effecting water supplies of property owners?
The chances are little to none that shallow gas development will have any effect on water supplies of property owners, because drilling occurs at depths of up to 3,000 feet or more into coal seams. Water wells typically range between 50 and 200 feet far removed from gas development. However, to ensure this does not occur, the House Special Committee on Oil & Gas has moved legislation () that sets in law that no drilling shall occur in the same "geological zones" where drinking water supplies are drawn from.
Can a shallow gas developer enter one's private property without their consent?
Shallow gas developers are required by law () to negotiate and secure a signed "land use agreement" with the property owner before entering the premises. In the unlikely event an agreement isn't achieved, the same statute then requires the developer to obtain a bond before entering the property. Before the bond is issued by the state, notice must first be provided the property owner with an opportunity for the owner to be heard and voice any objections.
Is air pollution a concern?
No. When drilling occurs, there are no discharges from equipment into the air except from exhaust from diesel engines, equivalent to a tractor-trailer hauling freight on a highway. The same applies to equipment used in the production of gas.
How are noise, unsightliness, minimum separation and safety issues addressed?
Local governments have authority to establish land use regulations to address noise buffers, visual problems, setbacks and other concerns as they relate to shallow gas development.
Does a property owner own what's beneath the surface?
A property owner does not own the "mineral deposits" (i.e. oil, gas or minerals) per . However, the owner does own non-mineral resources such as gravel.
Is the state required to give notice to property owners before a permit is granted for drilling or a lease is issued?
Yes. Public notices are required under The Alaska Lands Act, , calling for the state to notify, in writing, affected property owners a minimum of 30 days prior to granting a drilling permit. (c) requires the state to notify the public 60 days in advance before a lease is issued, including allowing comments in a public hearing format.
Can a property owner appeal a decision by the state once a drilling permit or lease has been issued?
Yes. A person who disagrees with a decision by the state to issue a drilling permit or lease can file an appeal under the department's administrative regulations (11 AAC 02.010 and 040). Once an appeal is filed, the decision would be placed on hold for at least 30 days while the appeal is under review.
For further questions or information, please contact Rep. Kohring's office at (907) 465-2186 in Juneau or 373-1842 in Wasilla.
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