A natural gas well operated by Northeast Natural Energy, top, viewed from Morgantown on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2011. (AP Photo/David Smith)
Here’s a report from the AP’s Larry Messina on yesterday’s legislative interim meeting:
West Virginia would expand the buffer zones between Marcellus shale wells and homes, livestock and drinking water through provisions added Wednesday to a regulatory proposal for the rich natural gas reserve.
The special House-Senate committee drafting the bill adopted the various buffer zones by a non-unanimous voice vote. Before recessing in advance of a meeting Thursday, the lawmakers also agreed they will reconsider drilling permit fee hikes approved last month. Industry groups have objected to the proposed $10,000 for an initial well and $5,000 for each additional well at that site. Natural gas operators now pay just a few hundred dollars for permits.
The committee’s goal remains a regulatory measure capable of passage during a special legislative session. Gov.-elect Earl Ray Tomblin has said he will convene one if the committee’s draft attracts sufficient consensus. Efforts to pass a Marcellus rules bill failed during this year’s regular session, prompting Tomblin to order temporary emergency standards from the Department of Environmental Protection.
Wednesday’s proposed buffer zones include one of 625 feet between the center of a well site and a residence or building that houses dairy cattle or poultry. The committee voted after hearing from Marion County resident Casey Griffith, who said the dream house he built with his wife has been ruined by a well site 200 or so feet away. Around-the-clock noise, dust churned up by well construction and waste gas burned off at the site are among his family’s concerns, he said.
“I swore I would never live anywhere but in West Virginia,” said Griffith, a lifelong state resident. “I don’t believe that any more.”
Brett Loflin, an executive with Northeast Natural Energy, agreed that he wouldn’t want a well 200 feet from his house. But he said buffers larger than 625 feet would unfairly hinder operators. Lawmakers had also considered buffers of 750 feet and 1,000 feet.
“The primary concern is sterilizing acreage, and just not being able to put a well anywhere,” Loflin told the committee.