Sustained Outrage

UPDATED: The legislative committee on Marcellus Shale has approved the bill and asked for a special session to consider the measure.

Long-time West Virginia political leaders like Sen. Joe Manchin (above) were making much earlier this week (see here and here) about how the state needs time to get a handle on the Marcellus Shale issue and put a proper regulatory system into place, making it clear they want federal officials to pretty much mind their own business.

But on at least one crucial issue — whether the state Department of Environmental Protection has enough inspectors and other staff to do the job — West Virginia has had nearly 20 years to remedy the problem, and so far as done next to nothing. That’s the bottom line in a story we posted online last night. Headlined, State ignored previous warnings about drilling inspector shortage, the story explains:

Long before most West Virginians had ever heard the words “Marcellus Shale,” outside auditors were warning that the state’s oil and gas regulatory agency was greatly underfunded and severely understaffed.

In December 1993, a review by the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission warned that lack of funding and a shortage of inspectors were among the chronic problems facing the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Oil and Gas.

“The OOG does not have enough inspectors or funding to fully meet its statutory mandate,” said the 98-page review report, written by a team of regulators from other states, industry officials and environmental group representatives.

A decade later, another outside examination found that little had changed. The state oil and gas office still “does not have enough inspectors or funding to fully meet its statutory mandate,” said a 110-page report issued in January 2003.

Don Garvin, lead lobbyist for the West Virginia Environmental Council, commented at Sen. Manchin’s Senate committee field hearing, held in Charleston on Monday:

The best written rule is no good if you don’t have enforcement, if you don’t have inspectors in the field overseeing the operations.

You can read the 1993 review of West Virginia’s oil and gas regulatory program here and the follow-up review done in 2003 here.

Part of the current version of a Marcellus drilling bill pending in the Legislature is an amendment calling for a follow-up outside review or West Virginia’s program. Of course, the question right now is really whether lawmakers and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin will take action on the inspector shortage that has been a looming problem for so many years … The Marcellus committee meets this afternoon, so stay tuned …