We reported back in mid-January that the state Department of Environmental Protection’s new oil and gas drilling rules had advance without any weakening amendments from the industry … At least the West Virginia Environmental Council thought so, but it turns out they — and we — were wrong.
In this weekend’s Green Legislative Update, the council’s lead lobbyist explained that Sen. Joe Minard, D-Harrison, quietly worked out a deal with the WVDEP to modify the rules. The deal provides a big loophole that would allow drillers to avoid using impermeable synthetic liners for drilling pits. According to Garvin:
While the Rule-Making Review Committee was considering other rules, the Senate Chairman of the committee, Joe Minard (D-Harrison) went out in the hall and huddled together with industry lobbyists, and DEP staff.
They made a deal in the hall to change the language in the rule that requires all oil and gas well drilling pits and impoundments to use impermeable synthetic liners. They agreed to add the following language: “except those pits and impoundments authorized by the Office, based on soil analysis from the operator.”
DEP agreed to this new language as a “modification,” so a committee amendment would not need to be offered (it’s the agency’s rule, so they can simply agree to the modification).
When the full committee deliberated on the oil and gas rule, committee staff explained that the rule had been modified because a previous rule on marking gas pipelines at coalmine sites had to be combined with the new rule covering impoundments.
Committee members – and those of us in the audience – were never told that there was an additional modification, or what was in that modification.
Senator Minard then moved the rule “as modified,” and the committee voted unanimously to approve the rule.
Delegate Bonnie Brown (D-Kanawha), the House chair of the Joint Legislative Rule-Making Review Committee was not aware that a deal had been cut in the hallway, and never saw the modified language.
Senator Herb Snyder (D-Jefferson), the Senate vice-chair of the Joint Legislative Rule-Making Review Committee was not aware that a deal had been cut in the hallway, and never saw the modified language.
In fact, no one on the committee – other than Senator Minard – knew that a deal had been cut in the hallway and what the modified language was.