Sustained Outrage

W.Va. citizen groups seek drilling permit moratorium

A natural gas well operated by Northeast Natural Energy in Morgantown on Saturday, Aug.  6, 2011.  (AP Photo/David Smith)

West Virginia citizen groups this afternoon are holding a press conference at the Capitol to issue an urgent call for an immediate moratorium on new permits for oil and gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale region of our state.

Among other concerns, the groups are citing the state Department of Environmental Protection’s shortage of inspectors (see here and here), and arguing that a permit moratorium should remain in place until the following condition is met:

No new permits should be issued until DEP inspections of drilling operations and gas wells become mandatory. The WV DEP must determine the number of active wells that an inspector can effectively oversee and limit the number of permits issued to the corresponding number of inspectors on staff.

One citizen group, WV for Moratorium on Marcellus, had already called for at least a temporary halt to new permits. Other groups joining in today’s call for a moratorium include the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition,  the West Virginia Environmental Council, Friends of the Cacapon River, Christians for the Mountains, Eight Rivers Council, the Greenbrier River Water Association, and

Their call for a moratorium comes after citizen and environmental groups turned out for a WVDEP hearing in July, trying to urge agency officials to toughen the rules they wrote to implement last December’s new drilling legislation. Citizen groups have complained that the new legislation doesn’t go nearly far enough, and was greatly weakened by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin at the industry’s request (see here, here and here).

Among the other demands made by  citizen groups today:

— No new permits should be issued until a closed-loop process is mandated for drilling and hydraulic fracturing. In order to protect the state’s surface and groundwater, no waste or flowback, solid or liquid, should be applied to or buried on the land.

— No new permits should be issued until Home Rule is honored. Local towns and counties must be allowed to control whether, where and when hydraulic fracturing is done in their communities, including control of the roads and hours where trucks hauling drilling equipment and supplies are allowed to operate.

— No new permits should be issued until West Virginia citizens are guaranteed a permanent replacement if their source of clean water becomes contaminated at any time within 1 mile of a natural gas drilling operation unless another source of pollution can be proven.

The citizen groups said today:

We know that the legislation adopted in December 2011 was grossly inadequate, and does not provide the basic protections needed by West Virginia citizens. Yet permits for new wells continue to be issued, leaving landowners and local citizens helpless to stop the dangers in their neighborhood. Natural gas development can be done right, but today, it is being done wrong, and that needs to stop.