By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Hydraulic fracturing has sent tremors through the city recently, but not because the city is selling compressed natural gas, the clean alternative.
Rental of a temporary water meter by an oil and gas drilling company has raised red flags at city hall while residents post fears and concerns about water use and “fracking” on social media websites.
In a joint meeting of the city council’s finance and oversight committees tonight, city leaders will discuss bulk water meter sales “and other issues associated with oil and gas drilling.” The 5:30 p.m. meeting is open to the public but may not be open to public comment.
“It’s not a public hearing, it’s a public work session to address apparent gaps in our policy,” Mayor Cindy Rosenthal said.
Whether public comments are taken at the meeting will be up to committee chair persons Tom Kovach and Lynne Miller, Rosenthal said.
“Staff has gathered a lot of information about other communities, and there’s a lot for (the) council to discuss,” Rosenthal said. “Many other communities are addressing zoning and siting issues, and we do not.”
Rosenthal said some cities address where oil and gas drilling rigs can be located.
Residents concerned about water usage brought the topic to the city’s attention after oil and gas drillers rented a water meter and began using about 17,000 gallons of treated drinking water a day at a site on Franklin Road.
Four miles away from the drilling site at 2351 Goddard Ave., the city of Norman operates a CNG fueling station that is open to the public 24 hours a day. The city-owned fueling station opened in January 2012.
Asked if anyone considered how natural gas is obtained before the city entered into the natural gas business, Rosenthal had no answer.
“You can get natural gas without fracking,” Rosenthal said.
Off-shore drilling produces natural gas without the horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing process. On-shore or dry drilling is another issue.
Natural gas from shale formations — made possible by horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing — comprises a growing segment of domestic natural gas production and is expected to account for 75 percent of the U.S. supply by 2035, according to IHS, an energy research and services firm.
Little River well is legal: Legal permits for drilling are in effect and have been issued by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission and the city of Norman at the well known as “Little River No. 1-12H.”
The city water meter was legally rented for use with a temporary permit. Norman city staff does not have the authority to discriminate on who rents a temporary water meter. Other users include builders and Girl Scouts who rent the meters for car washes.
The charge on the temporary meter will be a topic of discussion tonight. Currently, the rate is $2.50 per 1,000 gallons of water, which is slightly higher than the regular commercial rate. During peak usage months in the summer, however, Norman buys water from Oklahoma City for upward of $5 per 1,000 gallons.
The rate charges on the temporary meters can be raised administratively, the city manager said, and do not require a popular vote. Council members will consider several pricing options to be presented by city staff.
Other topics under consideration could include fencing for safety at well sites, landscaping and buffer zones.
Hydraulic fracturing in domestic production: Currently, the Little River well is a drilling operation. The permit specifies that the well will be vertical and horizontal. After a horizontal well is drilled, hydraulic fracturing is used to extract oil and gas.
For a time, the U.S. was considered an energy “has been,” with steadily declining production leading to a heavy dependence on imports. Now, the U.S. has emerged as the world’s largest oil and gas producer in 2013, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing is credited with increased dry (versus offshore) production in the United States. The upside of the horizontal drilling and fracturing process is less dependence on foreign energy sources.
Net petroleum imports have fallen by about 50 percent in nine years because of the growth of dry production from unconventional reserves using hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, according to the Energy Information Administration.
The downside includes concerns that an increased number of earthquakes are associated with increased fracking operations. Other concerns involve the potential contamination of water supplies.
Norman residents have voiced concerns about negative affects on the environment and possible contamination of the Lake Thunderbird watershed or the Garber-Wellington aquifer. Whether the city council will address those concerns is unclear.
The Oklahoma Corporation Commission regulates oil and gas drilling, including fracking operations and waste disposal. The commission requires wells to be made of steel pipe sealed with cement.
The Corporation Commission reports that no drinking water pollution from hydraulic fracturing has been documented in Oklahoma, despite that approximately 100,000 wells have undergone hydraulic fracturing.
Norman sells natural gas as green alternative: CNG produces significantly less pollution than gasoline and fewer emissions to contribute to global warming. Using CNG also is said to extend the life of vehicle engines, industry sources said.
The city’s CNG fueling station was hailed as a green initiative for Norman. Additionally, the city owns and operates 60 CNG vehicles, which is about 15 percent of the city’s “rolling fleet,” Public Works Director Shawn O’Leary said.
The city buys natural gas for the fueling station from Oklahoma Natural Gas and compresses it for use in vehicles.
“It’s the same gas that we buy to heat our buildings,” O’Leary said.
Oklahoma is fourth in the nation in natural gas production and fifth in oil, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
While Finley Resources Inc. of Fort Worth owns the land on Franklin Road near 12th Avenue Northeast, NOMAC Drilling of El Reno is the local company charged with the drilling at the Little River well.
NOMAC referred all media questions to Chesapeake, and said they are a subsidiary of Chesapeake.
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