WV Legislative Review Committee Approves Fracking Rules, But …

by Duane Nichols on February 16, 2013

Committee approves DEP fracking rules; Lawmakers say changes imminent

From the Article by David Beard, Morgantown Dominion Post, February 12, 2013

CHARLESTON, WV — A set of legislative rules crafted to regulate the horizontal gas well industry cleared an important committee hurdle Monday afternoon. But legislators and stakeholders said changes are on the horizon as the full Legislature takes up the package. The joint Legislative Rule-Making Review Committee gave its qualified blessing to the WV Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) rules governing horizontal well development, as mandated by 2011’s Natural Gas Horizontal Well Control Act.

Committee co-chair Sen. Herb Snyder acknowledged the discontent with the 46-page set of rules, known as 35CSR8 (CSR is Code of State Rules). “We could be here for seven days discussing all the pending amendments. … I’m sure we’ll be debating it in a lot of different settings.”

When complete, these rules are what the WV-DEP will use to regulate the industry, based on the 2011 legislation. Having cleared this interim committee hurdle, the rules will go before individual House and Senate committees, then before the full bodies, and when a compromise set is OK’d by both, to the governor. According to the secretary of state’s office, the rules would then take effect sometime from April to September.

The rules cover the broad range of topics in the 2011 Act: Permits, coal seam and surface owner notice, water management plans, pits and impoundments, sediment control plans, casing and cementing standards and much more. Stakeholders from the industry, environmental groups and landowner groups were in the audience.

David McMahon, co-founder of the West Virginia Surface Owners Rights Organization (WV-SORO), brought a packet of proposed amendments with him that he will put aside for another day and another committee. “Our big question is, ‘What are they trying to hide?’” he said. Operators must report to WV-DEP what chemicals go down the hole, but not what comes back up. For flowback, they only have to record and retain the information. “Don’t you think that the environmental protection agency of the state of West Virginia should know what’s coming out of the wells?” he asked.
The rule originally called for operators to report breaches of primary and secondary containment barriers — tanks and dikes — but was modified to include only secondary breaches. “We think the agency should know when primary containment keeps failing so they can prevent it from happening again.”

WV-SORO also has some health hazard concerns —hydrogen sulfide, for example. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) describes the compound as a colorless, flammable, extremely hazardous gas with a rotten egg smell. The rules limit hydrogen sulfide emissions to 10 parts per million (ppm) — the OSHA standard for a 10-minute exposure. WV-SORO said the odor appears at a far lower concentration — .0047 ppm. A level that stinks up a neighborhood should be reported, so the DEP can investigate, and ward off any long-term exposure problems.

Legislators said the rules will likely go, on the Senate side, to the Energy Committee and then Judiciary. On the House side, it may just go right to Judiciary. That will be determined by the chambers’ leaders.

Other natural gas legislation: Two interim studies tied to the shale gas industry fizzled in the face of a tight budget year ahead. The Joint Standing Committee on Finance had looked at proposals for a severance tax trust fund and a WVU shale research center, and its final report reviewed the action taken — more accurately not taken — during interims.

Regarding a trust fund, a subcommittee recommended sitting on the idea, given that natural gas severance taxes have declined in the face of low gas prices. The subcommittee recommended taking it up in the future if tax revenues increase. Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, has been a strong trust fund advocate, and has introduced various versions of a Future Fund. He said Monday he will introduce it again, though with some changes from previous versions.

Regarding the WVU shale center, a subcommittee simply passed along the information it gathered in meetings, with no recommendation. Senate Finance Chair Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, said legislators are awaiting the governor’s budget figures this week before deciding how they want to spend money.


WVU and Ohio State University to cooperate in shale energy research

West Virginia University and Ohio State University have signed a memorandum of understanding creating a shale energy partnership between the two schools, agreeing to work collaboratively to develop a joint program of research in the Appalachian Region’s developing shale energy industry.

Ohio State and WVU will collaborate on scholarly work and instruction focused on shale energy. The schools will address issues related to shale development, including the economic implications of natural gas and other hydrocarbons, as well as the possible impacts of such development efforts on the environment, local communities and public health.

They will exchange information and jointly explore funding of shale energy and related environmental studies before, during, and after the development of the Utica and Marcellus shale plays, including the possibility of developing shale energy field laboratories, according to a news release issued by WVU.

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