July 19, 2011
Public Hearing on Marcellus Drilling in Wheeling Thursday
Hearings in Morgantown and Clarksburg Next Week
Public hearings sponsored by the House members of the legislature's Select Committee on Marcellus Shale begin this week.
This is your chance to tell the Legislature in person what you would like to see in a bill regulating natural gas drilling in West Virginia!
The first hearing is this Thursday, July 21 at 7:30 p.m. in the auditorium at West Virginia Northern Community College's B&O Building, 1704 Market St., Wheeling.
The second hearing is Monday, July 25 at 7:30 p.m. in Morgantown at the West Virginia University College of Law.
The final hearing is Wednesday, July 27 in Clarksburg.
The time and location for the Clarksburg meeting aren’t set yet, so we will update you on those details as soon as they are available. The final hearing is Wednesday, July 27 in Clarksburg in the auditorium at Robert C. Byrd High School.
These public hearings are scheduled to last only 90 minutes, and the amount of time allotted to individual speakers will be allocated according to how many citizens want to speak. So get there early and sign up.
Legislators are looking for specific suggestions as to what should be included in a regulatory bill. You can help ensure that surface owners' rights are considered in these new drilling regulations.
WV-SORO believes any bill passed by the legislature must:
1.) Include pre-permit incentives to encourage the driller to work with the surface owner on planning where and how well sites and access roads will be built, maintained and reclaimed. Earlier notice and a requirement to meet are needed and appreciated but allow the companies to give the appearance they are working with landowners without actually requiring that they to do so. Drillers should be required to negotiate a written agreement with the surface owner before they can get a permit or, if no agreement can be reached requiring them to post an individual well bond that guarantees the surface owners' compensation for damages.
2.) Improve the laws governing conventional and vertical Marcellus wells not just horizontal wells. Marcellus Shale development is resulting in what can only be described as “the industrialization of rural West Virginia.” Because our oil and gas drilling laws have not been updated in nearly 30 years, this new boom in drilling (and the new technologies associated with it) is largely unregulated. However, there are also many problems with other (conventional) gas well drilling that need to be addressed. Poor construction and maintenance of access roads, ineffective soil erosion and sediment controls, stream sedimentation and poor or delayed reclamation are common problems, problems that are exacerbated by a lack of enforcement. Regulations should be based on the amount of land disturbed and the amount of water used, rather than whether a well is “vertical” v. “horizontal” or “shallow” v. “deep.”
3.) Increase the current statewide setback of 200 feet from homes and water wells to at least 1,000 feet. The current 200 foot setback can be found in leases dating back to the 1890's, and our laws have not kept up with technological advances in drilling. Natural gas drilling is a major industrial activity and with Marcellus Shale operations in particular, we are especially concerned about the close proximity to people’s homes given their duration, the noise, light and other pollution from the sites, in addition to the potential for series accidents like the fires and explosions which occurred last year in the Northern Panhandle. In addition to habitable dwellings these setbacks should apply to schools, places of worship, hospitals, water sources and bodies of water.
4.) Expand protections for drinking water sources. Recent events in Morgantown have highlighted the need for additional protections for public water supplies. Because of the concern about siting two Marcellus gas wells within 3,000 feet from Morgantown’s drinking water intake, additional safeguards were written into the permits the WV-DEP issued to Northeast Energy. These safeguards include redundant spill prevention and containment measures, integrity testing of well casings and a prohibition of on-site disposal of drilling waste. Shouldn’t private landowners be afforded the same protections? And why shouldn't these conditions be required of all wells in order to protect citizens and the environment? Full and equal protection is needed for all water supplies, including adequate setbacks and testing. Increased oversight of casing and cementing is also critical. An inspector to be there for the cementing of the surface/freshwater casing.
5.) Prohibit on-site disposal of drilling waste. Although land application of any return fluids from drilling in the Marcellus Shale is currently prohibited by the State (because they are known to contain high levels of salt, as well as naturally occurring radioactive materials or NORMs), under the State's general permit, drillers may land apply liquid waste from conventional wells on site. Current law also allows the cuttings of drilled out rock and other solid waste from the drilling and fracturing process to be buried in place , unmarked on the surface owner’s land. These practices should be prohibited and all contents of the drilling pit should be hauled away and disposed of properly.
6.) Increase funding for inspectors and reform hiring practices. Regulations are only as effective as their enforcement. The DEP Office of Oil and Gas has too few inspectors to adequately protect citizens and the environment from the treats posed by oil and gas drilling and development poses to human health and our land, air and water. In addition to increasing the number of inspectors, hiring practices need to be changed. The industry-dominated Oil and Gas Inspectors Examining Board should be abolished to allow the DEP Secretary to hire these inspectors the way other DEP inspectors are hired and fired. Unlike any other inspectors in the DEP, the board requires 3 or 6 years of industry experience to get hired -- so only foxes can be hired to guard the hen house.
Other essential elements needed in any regulatory bill include:
- Public notice and comment period prior to issuing drilling permits
- Adequate permit fees and bonding amounts
- An actual water withdrawal permit system to protect streams and rivers
- Disclosure of fracing fluid contents, and tracking of all wastewater disposal, including GPS tracking of wastewater transport trucks
- Monitoring and regulation of air quality on drilling sites
- Protections for public lands and high-quality streams
We are sure you can think of others. Please consider attending on of the hearings and sharing your thoughts and concerns.
If you are unable to attend, please contact members of the Select Committee and your legislators today. Your voice is needed now to ensure that surface owners' concerns are addressed in a meaning full way.