“Regulatory Structure Isn’t Prepared” States WVDEP Secretary Huffman

by Dee Fulton on June 3, 2011

At a public meeting held Thursday evening in Morgantown at Skyview Elementary School,  West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Randy Huffman faced a crowd of incensed citizens.  The approval of two drilling permits within 1500 feet of the Monongahela River, 3000 feet from a public water intake, and close to two public schools has galvanized the Morgantown community into action.  Barry Pallay, cochair of the WV/PA Watersheds Compact, referred to the contentious permit as a “poster child for a permit that should not be approved”.   The Compact and The League of Women Voters cosponsored the meeting.

Slightly more than 200 people had turned out for the meeting to learn about and discuss the negative impacts of Marcellus shale drilling.  Roughly a third to a half had left before Huffman spoke in the latter part of the three hour program.  Pallay introduced Huffman and asked, “Using the powers you have, can you put together a regulatory program to protect the area” and the state?   Huffman explained that the oil and gas regulatory program in use now was developed for conventional vertical gas wells, not the new technology of horizontal drilling.  ”Quite frankly, our regulatory structure isn’t prepared to deal with it.”  The WVDEP, recognizing that the agency lacked the authority and the funding needed to properly regulate the industry, developed a 200 page hydraulic fracturing bill in 2010 which was introduced in the Legislature.  The West Virginia Legislature failed to pass any legislation relating to hydraulic fracturing in the 2011 session other than a bill that granted a tax credit package to industry primarily to provide incentives for chemical industry development.

The impacts of horizontal drilling on roads, water, air and public health and safety have not been considered in the aggregate.  ”We are learning so much about what is going on, we are making changes in our thinking every day” said Huffman.  At which point an audience member shouted, “Why don’t you stop the drilling until you know what you’re doing?”  Other audience members joined in the shouting; Pallay had to restore order.  ”I do not as the cabinet secretary of the DEP have the authority to stop gas drilling in the state of West Virginia,” Huffman said at one point in response to that sentiment in the room.  Two resolutions were presented and passed.  One calls for a moratorium on issuing permits until a regulatory framework is in place.  The second calls for the WVDEP evaluate permit applications for public health and safety impacts, flag those with potential problems, and seek public input regarding those flagged.  Huffman pledged to re-evaluate the DEP’s air quality control measures, and agreed that evaluating permits for public health and safety concerns, and flagging problem permits for further review is worth considering.

Morgantown Utility Board (MUB) General Manager Tim Ball spoke to concerns of the residents about potential for contamination of the drinking water supply.  He informed the crowd that MUB staff are at the drill site almost every day observing the safety tests and the results.  MUB also plans to conduct routine testing of the water in the Mon River at the base of the pad and at the intake. Contingency plans have been developed in the case of a spill or other contamination event.  The Cobun Creek reservoir can serve as an alternate water source for nine days. MUB is also planning on installing a backup intake upstream of the well pad.   Audience members asked who would cover the expenses of these additions to the system.  At this point in time, the costs are borne by the citizens.  Pallay called for a resolution to hold the drilling company responsible for these costs via a bond.  The audience approved that resolution.

Morgantown Deputy Mayor Don Spencer updated the crowd about the progress of the Morgantown City Council.   City Council is developing a resolution which calls for several items that were included in draft legislation that failed to pass the legislature this spring, and a few items that were not included in the legislature draft bills.   The City Council will have a first reading of a council resolution on June 7th.  A public hearing will be scheduled before the second reading of the council resolution.

Full story: Dominion Post by David Beard reprinted in Charleston Daily Mail

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