A New Approach
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, a unique regulatory approach was developed by state, industry and environmental stakeholders, with assistance by the Federal government, to improve state oil and gas exploration and production environmental programs. The Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC) spearheaded a collaborative effort to benchmark state regulatory programs, develop recommended state program guidelines, address regulatory gaps identified by EPA in its 1988 regulatory determination, and establish a review process to evaluate state regulatory programs against those guidelines. The purpose of the state review process is to assist states in improving their oil and gas environmental regulatory programs.
Conducting State Reviews
Review teams of state, industry and environmental stakeholders conduct state reviews. States volunteer to be reviewed. The state completes a questionnaire based on the guidelines. The review team visits the state and conducts a multi-day interview. The state describes its programs to the review team, and the review team asks questions to develop a clear understanding of the state requirements. Following the interview, the team develops a written report containing their findings and recommendations for program improvements. The STRONGER Board approves the report for publication and distribution. Follow-up reviews evaluate implementation of the recommendations and new guidelines added since the prior review.
Changes in the Process
This state review process has undergone a number of changes since its inception (See: Our History). The guidelines have periodically been updated and expanded in scope. Management of the process has shifted to a non-profit corporation named State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations (STRONGER). The STRONGER Board of Directors is comprised of stakeholders representing states, industry and public interest groups. Board Chairmanship rotates among the stakeholder groups.
In 2009 STRONGER formed a Hydraulic Fracturing Workgroup charged with examining the issues and developing draft guidelines for state regulatory programs. Final hydraulic fracturing guidelines were completed and made available in early 2010. Focused reviews of state hydraulic fracturing requirements were initiated. Reviews were conducted in six states. Written reports summarizing the programs and containing findings and recommendations were developed, distributed and posted on the STRONGER web site.
Twenty-two state programs, representing over 94% of domestic onshore oil and gas production, have been reviewed and critiqued by stakeholder review teams. Written reports of review team findings and recommendations were developed, published and distributed. Ten reviewed programs have had at least one follow-up review to determine the status of implementation of review team recommendations and to review the programs against updated sections of the guidelines. Follow-up review teams documented that 76% of the recommendations from earlier reviews had been satisfied. This high implementation rate reflects state commitment to the improvement of oil and gas environmental regulatory programs. It further documents the success of the multi-stakeholder process for guidelines development and state reviews.
During the summer of 2009, all states that have been reviewed were surveyed to determine the status of implementation of recommendations contained in the report of their most recent review. All states responding indicated that they had taken steps to improve their programs based on review team recommendations. Of the 593 recommendations to the 16 states that responded, 194 (33%) were described as fully implemented, 161 (27%) as partially implemented, 157 (26%) as outstanding and 82 (14%) as unknown. This indicates that at least 60% of the recommendations have resulted in some improvements to state programs. When coupled with findings of follow-up review teams, the number of review team recommendations resulting in state program improvements increases to 74%.
While the state review process has been markedly successful, there is additional work that needs to be done. Eleven oil and gas producing states have not yet had an initial review to determine how their programs compare to the guidelines. Of the twenty-one states that have had an initial review, eleven have not had a follow-up review to evaluate their implementation of earlier recommendations or to conduct a program comparison to Guidelines revisions since the initial review.
Guidelines need to be expanded and updated. STRONGER currently has a workgroup looking at air issues and what role STRONGER might play as an educational resource. The hydraulic fracturing guidelines, although recently developed, should be updated to include groundwater protection and pressure monitoring measures. As population centers sprawl outward, and as drilling occurs in previously undeveloped areas, conflicts due to drilling in urban areas are on the increase. In some areas the situation is exacerbated by the severance of surface and mineral ownership. These conflicts have led, in numerous places, to local ordinances that may conflict with state requirements. This can result in unnecessary demands on limited state resources and adversely affect the ability of the state to protect human health and the environment. This can also lead to increased costs and time delays for development. STRONGER needs to continue to monitor these conflicts and should consider developing applicable guidelines.
The state review process administered by STRONGER has been demonstrated to be a successful alternative to federal oversight of state oil and gas exploration and production waste regulatory programs. The process also provides a framework for continuing state program improvements.
Volunteering for Review
States who want to volunteer for a review are encouraged to contact STRONGER.