News From Terre Haute, Indiana

June 14, 2013

Council bans ‘fracking’ in city

Arthur Foulkes
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — The Terre Haute City Council voted Thursday to ban “fracking” within the city limits until further notice.

Hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” removes oil and gas from rock formations deep underground. It uses water, chemicals and small particles such as sand to cause fractures in rock formations, releasing oil or gas reserves.

In recent years, Vigo County has seen several oil and gas exploration operations take root, including some within the city limits. The council voted Thursday night to ensure that “fracking” is not used in any operations within the city until additional changes can be made to city law.

“I think this resolution provides us with an opportunity to err on the side of caution,” said councilman John Mullican, D-6th, who joined council President Norm Loudermilk putting the resolution forward.

Companies involved in oil or gas extraction within the city have stated they are not using hydraulic fracturing, Loudermilk said, but “that doesn’t mean that they won’t do it.”

No representatives of oil or gas businesses spoke at the council meeting and no one spoke against the resolution, which passed on a voice vote without opposition. The resolution is intended to ensure groundwater is not contaminated by hydraulic fracturing, Mullican and Loudermilk said.

Meanwhile, the city’s legal department is drafting an ordinance — at the request of the council — that would transfer authority over “mining overlay” permits from the city’s Bureau of Zoning Appeals to the City Council.

Currently, any company or individual wishing to explore for oil or gas must seek a “mining overlay” from county and/or city officials. At present, the BZA handles mining overlay requests for the City of Terre Haute.

Loudermilk said he favors moving “mining overlay” authority to the council because it is an elected body while the Bureau of Zoning Appeals is appointed. The council also meets at times when more people can attend its meetings, he said.

Loudermilk said he also plans to seek additional requirements for any hydraulic fracturing within the city and hopes county officials would consider similar legislation.

The moratorium on “fracking” applies to all oil and gas operations within the city, even operations already approved, such as a drilling contemplated on the Indiana State University campus, Loudermilk said.

Hydraulic fracturing has been used in the United States since the 1940s, according to the website of the Association of American State Geologists. More than 50 percent of natural gas and a growing percentage of oil extraction use “fracking,” according to the site.

Normally, “fracking” takes place in rock formations thousands of feet below any fresh water aquifers, according to the AASG website. There are no known cases in which chemicals used in “fracking” moved up to contaminate fresh water; however, contamination has occurred from spills or mishandling of hydraulic fracturing fluids on the surface, according to the organization’s website, www.state

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@trib