Sustained Outrage

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West Virginia lawmakers have advanced out of their joint rulemaking committee a new set of Department of Environmental Protection rules to govern oil and gas drilling operations across the state.

The move sets up a potentially huge legislative battle if industry lobbyists (and there are plenty of them)  decide to fight the WVDEP proposal, especially given the previous unwillingness of Legislators to ask tough questions about this issue.

Don Gavin, lead lobbyist for the West Virginia Environmental Council, told me this afternoon that he was surprised industry didn’t push to weaken the rule during today’s committee meeting. The rule emerged as WVDEP had proposed it. But, Garvin added:

The trick now will be to get it through the session that way.

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Oil and gas operations have been under increasing scrutiny, given the water pollution problems in the Monongahela River watershed and a spill on Buckeye Run in Doddridge County, pictured above, (not to mention the controversy over drilling proposed for Chief Logan State Park).  And, as a recent report by ProPublica outlined, state resources for policing these operations are spread thin.

Among the more significant changes proposed by DEP are:

– Requiring all pits used to store contaminated water from drilling to have synthetic liners to prevent seepage or leaks.

– Adding new design and construction standards for these pits.

– Requiring inspection of the pits by a registered professional engineer.

Environmental groups have said these measures are only baby steps, but that they would be progress toward better regulation of oil and gas drilling. They’d like to see the rule improved, and have other ideas in mind for tougher restrictions on drilling.

In a related move Wednesday, WVDEP released the final version of its new guidance for  drilling in the Marcellus Shale, including a permit addendum that requires operators to provide the agency with much more information than previously mandated.

And look for a new strategy from the West Virginia Surface Owners Rights Organization in its quest to pass legislation protecting surface owners from abuses of some in this industry:

The bill  will be split into two – one requiring earlier notice and a pre-drilling surface use and compensation agreement and a second to improve damage compensation procedures and awards. 

And, WV SORO noted:

We may also see bills introduced to address enforcement issues and funding for inspectors and that give the surface owner the right of first refusal with regard to buying the minerals under their land  if taxes are delinquent.