WV-DEP Raises Gas Well Permit Issues with WV Legislature (SB-565)

by Duane Nichols on February 25, 2016

Soil Erosion and Land Slides Easily Occur

WV-DEP Secretary Huffman opposes bill to relax gas drilling permits

From an Article by Ken Ward Jr., Charleston Gazette-Mail, February 24, 2016

<<< Photo: A Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling pad in Marshall County >>>

Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Randy Huffman said Wednesday that his agency is against passage of an industry-backed bill that would allow natural gas companies to build access roads, well pads and other drilling-site infrastructure without first getting a well permit from the DEP. “I am opposed to it,” Huffman said in an interview. “I just don’t find it necessary.”

Huffman discussed the legislation (SB 565) the day after the state Senate passed the bill on a near-unanimous vote, with only Sen. Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, opposing it. “I don’t like it,” Huffman said. “I don’t like it as a matter of public policy.” The bill would make changes in a key provision of the Natural Gas Horizontal Well Control Act, which was passed during a special session in December 2011, and touted at the time by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin as providing “regulatory certainty” for the state’s growing natural gas industry and require that West Virginia’s Marcellus Shale resources be developed “in a reasonable manner.”

Among other things, the law made it unlawful for gas operators to “commence any well work, including site preparation work which involves any disturbance of land” without first obtaining a well permit from the DEP Office of Oil and Gas. The law set up requirements that companies design and engineer well sites based on detailed permit applications that would be reviewed by DEP staffers before permits were issued. Under the bill, which now heads to the House, any well-site preparation work — including well pad and road construction — can be done prior to operators obtaining DEP well permits.

The language does require the operators in those instances to have obtained separate permits that require certain sorts of storm water controls to keep mud out of streams during the construction. Huffman said that the level of planning and engineering involved in a storm water permit is not nearly as sophisticated as that required under the horizontal drilling act for DEP well permits. Those tougher requirements were specifically included in the 2011 law to address concerns that large-scale drilling sites were not being properly designed, engineered or built as the Marcellus industry moved to quickly expand in the northern part of the state.

“This activity is large and these well pads are big,” Huffman said. “They require sound engineering design in order for them to be stable. It’s very important that we recognize this and that we don’t go back to those days.” Huffman added that DEP has made speedy review of drilling permits a priority and reduced review times to less than 85 days, meaning that approval delays the industry complains about are without merit. The bill to relax permit requirements is one of at least two measures swiftly moving through the Legislature that would help natural gas drilling companies.

Another bill (SB 508), also approved on Tuesday, is aimed at limiting the ability of residents to file lawsuits against oil and gas operations that they believe are interfering with their use and enjoyment of their property. That bill would also prohibit such lawsuits — called “private nuisance” suits — if the activity at issue is “conducted pursuant to and in compliance with a permit, license or other approval by a state or federal agency or other entity.”

Huffman said that DEP has not taken a position on that bill (SB 508), but that many of the complaints about gas production activities that have prompted resident lawsuits — such as noise and dust — are not things that are regulated by his agency’s permits.

See also: www.FrackCheckWV.net

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