Bill would have Kan. regulators oversee fracturing

TOPEKA, Kan. — A bill that would give the Kansas Corporation Commission specific authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing of natural gas in the state is drawing support from an unusual coalition of advocates for energy and the environment.

Supporters said during a Senate committee hearing Tuesday that the bill was necessary because of past opinions from attorneys general that the KCC does not have the authority to write rules specifically concerning hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” Currently, the only way to regulate it is to convince legislators to pass a law, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

Tom Day, the KCC’s legislative liaison, said the agency, which regulates the state’s oil and gas industry, already feels it has authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing, which involves drilling a deep hole and firing pressurized fluid into it to create fissures that allow oil and gas trapped in shale to flow.

“The attorney general’s office has other ideas, because it’s not explicit for hydraulic fracturing,” Day said.

Sen. Pat Apple, R-Louisburg, suggested the process of going through the Legislature is too unwieldy to keep up with changes in technology.

Apple, chairman of the Senate Utilities Committee that heard the bill Tuesday, said the KCC is better able to regulate hydraulic fracturing than the Legislature.

“They hold a hearing on it, listen to all sides and come up with a process that should work,” he said. “If people aren’t happy with that they can always appeal it to the Legislature.”

Opponents of hydraulic fracturing say it threatens underground water quality and causes other pollution, while supporters argue that it has been used for years without any evidence that it pollutes water.

Kansas Independent Oil and Gas Association president Edward Cross said his organization would prefer that a state agency regulate hydraulic fracturing rather than the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which he called overly political.

“From the industry standpoint we like this because it pushes back against the EPA to say we don’t think we need federal regulation because we have something in Kansas,” Cross said after the hearing.

Zack Pistora, of the Kansas Sierra Club, said his organization supports giving the KCC more authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing but also advocates following federal standards.

“We do need a state guarantee that we’re going to be safe — that our air, water and land are going to be protected,” Pistora told the committee. “We do support the KCC in doing that. I do want to say that to make sure we do our part in support of that authority we need to make sure that we have the funding and staff necessary to properly monitor these hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling sites.”