This article originally provided by The Charleston Gazette
December 14, 2010
State lawmakers look at underground slurry ban, drilling regulations
By Alison Knezevich
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State lawmakers are considering sweeping new regulations for Marcellus Shale drilling, and a permanent ban on pumping coal slurry underground.
A House-Senate committee was set to take up both topics Tuesday during legislative interim meetings, but the group couldn't take any action because not enough senators showed up.
Legislators only briefly discussed the two bills, which had attracted a large audience of environmentalists, industry lobbyists and others to the meeting.
The first bill discussed Tuesday would make it illegal to pump slurry -- the byproduct created after coal is washed in a mixture of water and chemicals -- underground into abandoned mines. It also would give coal companies tax credits to develop alternative technologies for getting rid of the slurry.
Last May, the state Department of Environmental Protection issued a moratorium on new permits for underground slurry injections. The proposal would make that moratorium permanent. Coal operators would not be allowed to renew or change permits for existing injection sites.
Don Garvin of the West Virginia Environmental Council said he was disappointed lawmakers couldn't take up the measures Tuesday, but added that the committee could still endorse the bills during January interim meetings. The legislative session is set to start Jan. 12.
"We've been concerned about water wells being contaminated in the southern coalfields from the practice [of pumping slurry underground]," Garvin said. "People are getting sick."
Hundreds of Mingo County residents have sued Massey Energy and a subsidiary, alleging the company's slurry contaminated their well water.
The committee also briefly discussed proposed regulations for drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation, one of the richest natural-gas basins in America.
Among other topics, the wide-ranging bill addresses mediation between drillers and landowners; rules for hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking"; and protection of local roads that are being damaged by drillers' heavy equipment.
It also would impose $15,000 initial permit fees -- up from the $550 for initial permits for conventional shallow wells.
Dave McMahon of the West Virginia Surface Owners' Rights Organization said his group likes many aspects of the bill, but doesn't consider it perfect.
"We certainly like the fact that the Legislature is going to address this," McMahon said. "The idea is to get all the issues into the bill."
Industry leaders have blasted the proposal. Corky DeMarco of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association said Tuesday his group prefers a version of regulations that DEP is developing.
The regulations proposed by legislators would make drillers go to "several different DEP offices to get a permit," DeMarco said.
"The DEP bill preserves the one-stop shop for permitting," he said.
West Virginia has a 5 percent severance tax on natural gas extraction, while Pennsylvania does not.
"We're at a competitive disadvantage," DeMarco said. "The advantage that we do have over Pennsylvania is...our permitting process is more streamlined."
Reach Alison Knezevich at alis...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.