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An oil field controversy: Arkansas oil producers try drilling PC&E officials.

Some oil producers in southwest Arkansas are up in arms over a proposed regulation that would change the way they handle wastes.

A move is afoot at the state Department of Pollution Control and Ecology to further restrict the use of containment pits as a means of protecting surface water from oil field pollution.

PC&E officials believe oil producers could -- and should -- do more to prevent wastes from running into rivers and streams.

The proposed changes and recent criticisms by PC&E officials sparked the creation of a group called the Oil Producers of Arkansas. The organization is led by John Lowery of Lowery Oil Co. of El Dorado. Its purpose is to deflect unfavorable publicity and blunt regulatory efforts that would significantly reduce profits.

OPA members charge that PC&E is relying on inaccurate information. The group is singling out Chuck Bennett, director of PC&E's water division, for attack.

Battle lines also are forming between PC&E and another government agency, the state Oil and Gas Commission. Commission officials are siding with OPA members in asserting that PC&E employees have overstated the extent of the problem in southwest Arkansas.

"Mr. Bennett left the clear impression that our mom-and-pop operators in south Arkansas have been drilling and polluting at will, and that's just not the case," says Bill Wright, director of the Oil and Gas Commission.

"I don't do interviews," Bennett replies. "I gave that up a couple of years ago."

That self-imposed prohibition didn't stop a reporter from recording Bennett's comments outside a Pollution Control and Ecology Commission hearing. His words provided the grist for many of OPA's charges.

Doing Their "Best"

"We're doing the best we can to meet environmental regulations with our new wells, and we're doing what we can to improve the conditions of the old wells," Lowery says. "But it is an expensive proposition to close up old pits, some of which are 40 and 50 years old."

PC&E officials, however, believe better environmental policies can be achieved without driving producers out of business.

Inspections in the El Dorado area discovered numerous wells with at least one violation and several with multiple violations, including illegal discharges of oil and brine.

OPA members counter that the new regulations would prompt the closing of all pits, making bankruptcy inevitable for some producers.

For now, the changes focus on closing pits in the 100-year flood plain. Heavy rains and floods are major causes of oil field wastes escaping from containment pits.

Amending state regulations to abolish a grandfather clause for pre-1957 oil wells and pits in the 100-year flood plain would go a long way toward alleviating the problem, PC&E officials believe.
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Title Annotation:Across Arkansas: Southwest; Arkansas Department of Pollution Control and Ecology
Author:Waldon, George
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Jul 20, 1992
Words:449
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