Select Marcellus Committee of the WV Legislature Identifies Issues But Delays Action

by Duane Nichols on August 21, 2011

WV State Capitol reflecting in the Kanawha River
Delegate Tim Manchin, co-chair of the WV Joint Select Committee on Marcellus Shale is seeing action by the committee this year.  However, Senator Doug Facemire, also a co-chairman, says the there is too much to do in the next few months already. According to the Morgantown Dominion Post, Facemire also said that a new bill from the Select Committee will have to go through committees in both chambers, and then both chambers will have to agree on the final product. The work the committee is doing is just the foundation. The final product will be different — how different, he can’t predict. The primary issues before the Select Committee include roads, inspectors, air and water quality and surface owner rights, among many others.
Gas industry operators should notify the Division of Highways (DOH) 30 days before work begins at a well pad, Facemire said. The operator and the DOH should make arrangements to maintain and repair the roads before any site work begins. The DOH should photographically document the condition of the roads before work begins and after it is done.
The WV-DEP has told the committee that it would like (1) to have 20-21 inspectors working, (2) to increase permit fees to $5,000 per well in order to hire nine new employees — inspectors and permitting staff, and (3) to do away with the Inspectors’ Examining Board and hire oil and gas well inspectors in the same way all other environmental inspectors are hired (through the WV Division of Personnel) and train them on the job.
Surface owners need more notification before an operator comes on their property. They need the power to negotiate terms with the operator. Public notice of proposed permits is needed, given the huge footprints of Marcellus operations. (There are 300 instances of 30-day public notice requirements in state code — including surface mining.). Surface owners also need a setback of more than 200 feet from their homes. Last session’s House bill made the setback 1,000 feet. The cement job around the well-bore is crucial to protecting groundwater, and should be inspected routinely. Other issues are being considered.
The Executive Order of Governor Tomblin, which is to be implemented this coming week by DEP, is intended to provide some temporary protections; however this has been called “too little and too late” by many observers.  A Special Session of the WV Legislature on “redistricting” has just ended and a special session on Marcellus regulation is not likely this year, as described above.  Many of the conservation, watershed and environmental groups of the State believe that a moratorium on drilling and on new permits seems logical and appropriate under these circumstances.

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