By Megan Banta
Companies in Indiana could drill coal bed methane wells if a proposal before the state Senate becomes law. At present, there is moratorium that prohibits such drilling. Senate Bill 71 would make it possible to lift that moratorium and establish rules and regulations for coal bed methane wells.
Sen. Beverly Gard, R-Greenfield, chairman of the Senate Energy and Environmental Affairs Committee, said the panel would be dealing with much more complicated issues than last year and that the extraction of coal bed methane would be "one of the more complicated issues."
One of the reasons that she cited for possible complications was that there was a very similar bill last year that the committee did not vote through. However, Gard said that the current bill is "not a re-run of last year's bill", but is substantially different, as it reflects negotiations that took place over the summer.
Ron McAhron, the Deputy Director of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, testified in favor of the bill.
"We view this as a need and a tremendous opportunity to address issues of miner safety and ... foster cooperation between [the oil and coal] industries," McAhron said.
McAhron said that he was glad for the ability to aid in making rules that address the stimulation of coal bed methane wells.
One main argument against the bill was that coal bed methane is obtained through a process known as hydrofracting, which can potentially pollute groundwater with chemicals.
Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage said that she did not think that there was enough information about how the drilling would affect water resources.
Tallian said this lack of information was one of the reasons that the committee did not approve the bill last year and that she did not understand how they could be any farther along now.
Sen. Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis, was also concerned about the potential hazards that could result from the extraction of coal bed methane. She pointed out that the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency is currently conducting a study on the effect of hydrofracting and asked McAhron why lawmakers shouldn't wait for the results of that study before they tried to pass the bill.
McAhron responded that he didn't want to slow down the process for those who extract using only coal and water.
Kerwin Olson, program director of Citizens Action Coalition, gave testimony in opposition to the bill. Like Tallian and Breaux, his main argument against the bill was environmentally based. He was concerned that it did not address the protection of Indiana's water resources.
"This bill does nothing to protect the public," Olson said.
Olson argued that water pollution as a result of hydrofracting "has and will occur."
Tim Maloney, Senior Policy Director of the Hoosier Environmental Council, suggested that the committee come up with "language to direct explicit guidance for protection of water resources."
Gard ended the hearing by putting the bill on hold. She said that she would bring it up for a vote Jan. 18.
The above is one of an ongoing series of daily reports from the Indiana Statehouse by students at the Franklin College Pulliam School of Journalism.