Proposed Rules Tighten Oil, Gas Drilling in State Forests (12/20, The State Journal)
Additional Information and Background
This initiative got started when the operator of gas wells in Kanawha State Forest abused the Forest by cutting a huge, hideous new road and in cutting it in the wrong place. The operator also scraped vegetation off a road instead of using proper maintenance; and made huge well sites like this one: (far left, left, middle, right).
The West Virginia Legislature’s Rule-Making Review Committee has approved a new rule proposed by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to control oil & gas drilling in state forests. The rule was required by a bill passed during the 2007 legislative session and requires the driller provide earlier notice to state forest officials and the public about drilling and maintenance activities in our forests. The notices will be posted on the DNR website and e-mailed to those who have requested them. For a new well, the notices will also be published in a local newspaper. The public can then submit comments for DNR to consider when it responds to the driller’s plans and permit application.
The rule requires the driller to consider recreational uses, natural resources, and endangered or rare species known to DNR or that are identified by the public. It prohibits cutting trees on the side of access roads, called “daylighting”, unless DNR specifically agrees. The steepness of roads is limited, and extra stabilization and erosion control structures are required. It allows DNR to suspend road building and other activities, other than actual ongoing drilling, during inclement weather. Re-vegetation of well sites and roads is improved by requiring seed mixtures that are friendlier to wildlife. DNR can require native seeds if they are effective and not too costly. Improved road maintenance practices are required and bulldozer “blading” of roads for maintenance is limited. The rule requires most roads to be gated and for the driller to compensate the state for damages if a gate is left unlocked.
While we preferred to have a public hearing, not just written comments, and would have liked the driller to be required to do a full biological inventory of the surface they are proposing to disturb, we believe this is a huge step for our forests and forest users. The state’s rights as a surface owner, where the state does not own the minerals, will be better honored now, and the public, who really owns the forests, will have some real input once the rule is approved by the full legislature.
The Rules passed the Legislature without further amendments or other problems. They will go into effect when they are “finally filed” by DNR, which should be soon after the legislative session ends. Many thanks to Senator Fanning for taking such strong leadership on this, and to Delegate Bonnie Brown, chair of the Rule Making REview Committee for helping see the Rule through. Also thanks to Senator Fannings legislative staff lawyer Noelle Starek, and Delegate Brown’s lawyer, Brian Skinner, for hard work on this.
The next step is for the Kanawha State Forest Coalition that got this done to sit down and meet and decide where to go from here. We need to read through the Rule again and think about how to be ready when the notices etc. Also we need to follow through on an earlier idea about how to help the Forest police the drillers and their treatment of roads etc.