Legislature expected solid directives out of gas well pad research studies
From the Article by David Beard, Morgantown Dominion Post, August 22, 2013
CHARLESTON — Several delegates expressed frustration this week with the lack of concrete recommendations from the WV Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) after a series of gas well pad studies. Jim Martin, DEP Office of Oil and Gas chief, outlined the results of three legislatively mandated studies to the Joint Standing Committee on the Judiciary during interims.
The studies — pits and impoundments, released in March; noise, dust, light and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), released in late May; and air quality, released in June — yielded just one recommendation to the Legislature: Reconsider well pad setbacks. The Dominion Post reported on them in depth in June and July.
Delegate Woody Ireland, R-Ritchie, had proposed the studies and grilled Martin several times about the WV-DEP’s recommendations — particularly setbacks. The current limit is 625 feet from the center of a pad. The WV-DEP recommended making it an unspecified number from the “limit of disturbance,” defined by the outermost sediment barrier.
Ireland said the current limit is arbitrary, reached through give and take, and the DEP’s recommendations fall short of his intentions for the studies. “Now we’re suggesting we’re going to enter into that negotiation again,” he told Martin. “Do you not see us being able to come to that on a scientific basis, rather than reverting to a used car dealership negotiation?”
Martin replied, “We don’t believe the information we have gives us a number.” And Ireland — a retired chemist (or chemical engineer) — said, “I’m just frustrated we can’t come to a scientific basis.”
Martin told the members the studies cost about $1 million: $600,000 to WVU to conduct the studies, and $400,000 in-kind for use of a U.S. Department of Energy data gathering trailer. “All of these were on very tight timelines,” he said. They didn’t find any public health emergencies but uncovered some nuisance-related concerns.
The WV-DEP is consulting with operators and staff regarding a variety of mitigating measures, Martin said. For noise, they recommend sound barriers, reduced vehicle idling and reduced night operations. Some operations might fall under local noise laws.
For dust, they suggest road-wetting agents, lower speeds and changing the timing of traffic. For VOCs, they recommend that state police enforce the vehicle idling act. Legislators were skeptical about that one.
Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, observed that while studied operations didn’t exceed 70 decibels — the Environmental Protection Agency threshold for hearing loss — many did exceed levels that disturb sleep and affect health.. “I’m just wondering why we aren’t going to establish a number the companies could work toward,” she said. “I hope you would consider that. It’s something we’ve gotten a lot of reports about.”
Delegate Mike Manypenny, D-Taylor, referred to an explosion at a Doddridge County well pad that led to the deaths of two workers. Referring to VOCs on well pads, he said, “I don’t think we went as far as we should have to protect worker safety, too.” He wondered about a legislative mandate to employ best management practices.
Work-site safety falls under the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Martin said, and the WV-DEP is talking with OSHA about site safety.
In its study reports to the WV-DEP, WVU noted the limited time and amount of data available, and recommended more studies. After the meeting, The Dominion Post asked Martin about doing more research. He said, “I think the key thing there is we’re talking about studies … and activities that are in theory short duration or at least temporary in nature. We haven’t looked at that as to whether that’s necessary or not and that wasn’t part of our recommendation. … We haven’t chosen to make that recommendation.”
Asked about what’s next for the WV-DEP, based on the studies, he said, “At this point, we filed our reports and we made what recommendations we felt were appropriate to make.” It’s in the Legislature’s court now. “That’s up to them.” (Bolded accent added. DGN).