Stronger Marcellus Shale Legislation Needed

In November the legislature’s Joint Select Committee on Marcellus Shale recommended a bill to regulate Marcellus Shale drilling in West Virginia.  Now that the committee has completed its work, a special session to adopt new drilling regulations now appears likely.

While we appreciate the work of the Select Committee, we do not feel the bill recommended by the committee adequately addresses surface owners’ concerns and we are disappointed that they felt this was the best they could do. It has been 4 years, since our organization formed and began working for legislation to keep drillers from sneaking onto our land and surveying for well sites and access roads without notifying us and involving us in the planning process. That was before Marcellus Shale drilling, which is a small private hell for surface owners and others living near by.

The Governor should convene a special session of the legislature to approve legislation to regulate the natural gas industry and aid surface owners in having their rights recognized and respected by the drillers. These changes are long overdue. However, there are specific provisions in the proposed legislation we would like to see strengthened to provide better protection for West Virginia landowners.  The provisions in the bill where we see the biggest need and room for improvement relate to the following issues:

  • Surface owner agreement – Negotiations with the surface owner should be mandatory before the location of well sites and access roads are surveyed.
  • Well location restrictions – The setback from homes and domestic water supplies should be increased to at least 1,000 feet from the edge of construction or surface disturbance.
  • Protection of water supplies and presumption of liability – Pre-drilling testing parameters should be expanded and there should not be a 6-month limitation on the presumption of liability.
  • Pits and impoundments and the handling and disposal of drilling waste – “Flowback recycle impoundments” should be designed and constructed using a double liner system with leak detection. On-site burial of drilling waste should be prohibited.

Our specific concerns regarding these provisions are outlined in detail here.  In addition to these concerns, we are disappointed that there are no improvements in the proposed legislation for conventional gas wells, or even for vertical Marcellus Shale wells that disturb 3 to 5 acres and use 1,000,000 gallons of water. (See photo below of a vertical well being drilled to the Marcellus Shale.) The provisions of the proposed bill should apply to vertical Marcellus wells, and many of them should apply to all wells.

While we are disappointed that the committee did not recommend a stronger bill, we are supportive of some key provisions.  These include:

  • Increased permit fees to help DEP cover the additional costs of reviewing and processing Marcellus Shale drilling permits and allow the agency to increase its inspection and enforcement staff.
  • Elimination of the industry-dominated Oil and Gas Inspectors Examining Board.
  • Expanded notice of drilling permits to surface owners, neighboring landowners, owners of water wells and springs within 2,500 feet and the public.
  • Clarification of water replacement requirements.

The impact and problems related to Marcellus Shale and other gas well drilling demand a comprehensive overhaul of our state’s oil and gas regulatory program.  It is imperative that the legislature address these problems to protect the people and resources of our state.

Please contact Governor Tomblin and your legislators and urge them to support stronger rules and tougher enforcement and oppose weakening the proposed legislation drafted by the legislature’s Joint Select Committee on Marcellus Shale.

Call Governor Tomblin at (304) 558-2000 or toll-free at 1-888-438-2731.  Click here to contact your legislators.

Tell them we deserve more, not less. Encourage them to support a stronger bill than the one recommended by the Select Committee.

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