Balancing Private, Public Interest with Water Management Planning

Companies in the oil and gas industry face tremendous challenges in their attempts to balancing private and public interest. They must strive to uphold standards, laws and regulations – some of them no doubt enacted out of fear rather than fact, all of which makes oil and gas much more difficult for domestic producers.

In March 2010 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it intends to conduct a study on the impact of fracking at the request of Congress. According to the EPA website, the first progress report for this study is planned for late 2012 with a final draft report release for public comment in 2014.

Oil and gas companies might be looking at this process with trepidation, based on the history of past environmental regulations. Look, for example, at the activities that led to the founding of the EPA. Its roots are in the 1967 Air Quality Act of 1967, a law that made states primarily responsible for adopting and enforcing air quality standards within the regions. The approach failed, which prompted another law, the 1970 Clear Air Act, and, ultimately, to the creation of an entirely new agency, the EPA, adding another layer of governmental regulation and scrutiny.

What regulators and lawmakers might not account for, however, is private industry’s own motivations to promote a clean and safe environment. Fortunately, many successful companies have embraced their roles as stewards going above and beyond regulation to further their cause. These companies have established good reputations, and understand that public relations is a crucial element of the organization’s continued success.

Maintaining good public relations can be an arduous task, as it requires not only establishing a reputation in the market, but protecting against misinformation. While preventing the proliferation of misinformation may seem impossible, reducing it is not. It just takes a will on the behalf of a company to eliminate lack of information in the marketplace.

Businesses looking to preserve, or enhance, their reputation in an age of intense regulatory environment have to specialize in promoting quality information. They also must take new steps that can bring a more positive perception to the oil and gas industry.

Water management planning (WMP) – a process that accounts for the acquisition, consumption and disposal of water used in industrial processes -- is one area where oil and gas companies can establish positive reputations.

In the past, WMP was done at the municipal level to govern the consumption and disposal of water within a watershed. Additionally certain institutions private and public have used WMP to reduce impacts and maximize the utilization of water in day-to-day activities. Increasingly, the oil and gas industry is taking center stage as the platform for standardized WMP that will not only improve the bottom line but will shift the public perception paradigm in a very positive direction.

A new WMP law in Pennsylvania, for instance, is aimed at hydraulic fracturing operations, and lays the groundwork for oil and gas companies looking to do something positive and enhance their reputations. The legislation requires operators to document their water consumption and use in hydraulic fracturing activities. It also requires that companies must establish their reuse plans prior to withdrawing water for consumption.

The Pennsylvania law represents a new opportunity for oil and gas industry. It also reflects the potential companies now have to reduce their impact on the environment while improving their reputation and, ultimately, their bottom line.


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