August 5, 2011
Thank You! Plus Report on Public Hearings and Select Committee Meetings
Many thanks to all the WV-SORO members who attended and spoke at the recent public hearings in Wheeling, Morgantown and Clarksburg, and to those who could not attend but have called and written to members of the Legislature's Select Committee on Marcellus Shale. More than 1,500 people attended the hearings sponsored by the House members of the Committee. The Clarksburg meeting had the biggest turn out by far -- nearly 1,000 people attended and more than 100 signed up to speak and voice their concerns. Industry supporters and employees, many who were there on the clock or given the afternoon off so they could sign up early to speak, dominated the first half of the meeting talking about the jobs and other benefits of the Marcellus Shale drilling boom. However, speakers during the second half of the meeting were primarily affected landowners and those concerned about health and the environment. Overall, the majority of speakers supported stronger regulations, which was the case at the previous meetings at well. Your passionate, angry and heartfelt stories of ruined water wells, lost farms and pastures, and polluted air and streams, and concerns about the health, safety and well being of friends and family were powerful.
Your stories needed to be heard and they were heard. At the first meeting of the Select Committee since the public hearings, House members successfully offered 7 amendments to strengthen the proposed regulations. The changes adopted by the Committee would require drillers to take drilling waste to an approved landfill rather than bury it on-site on a surface owners' land, and require the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to study the safety of large waste pits and impoundments and evaluate whether further rules are needed regarding radioactivity and other toxins held in the pits. Other amendments give the DEP's Office of Air Quality the authority to regulate air emissions from drilling sites, and if appropriate issue permits to help control those emissions. When issuing such permits, the DEP must consider cumulative impacts of “multiple wells in a localized geographic area." During a second meeting the Committee spent two hours discussing whether to eliminate the controversial, industry dominated Oil and Gas Inspectors Examining Board and allow the DEP to hire oil and gas inspectors the way it hires other environmental inspectors within the agency. The committee delayed a vote on an amendment to abolish the Board until its next meeting. Unfortunately, the committee is unlikely to meet again until September, but some progress was made improve the proposed regulations -- and that progress occurred because you took the time to share your stories and concerns. Thank you!