This article originally provided by The Charleston Gazette
April 30, 2011
David McMahon: W.Va. can regulate Marcellus shale and prosper
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The oil and gas industry says they are regulated enough and we can go on issuing new Marcellus Shale drilling permits without new laws or additional staff.
The industry points out that under the administration of acting Gov. Tomblin the DEP says it has the tools it needs. But under the Manchin administration the DEP put together a task force that came up with a 200-page bill of statutory changes, including an increase in permit fees for horizontal wells that would provide the funding need to double the staff of the DEP Office of Oil and Gas.
Currently the office has only 17 inspectors for 59,000 active wells, 6,000 wells that the industry should be plugging, and 13,000 wells that there is no company to plug them because the State did not act before the driller went out of business. I am not making this up! And that was before the Marcellus Shale "play", which is no fun for surface owners. In fact, it is a small private hell for surface owners and other living near this development.
The industry points to "guidance policies" of the DEP to deal with the sea change in drilling technology as if they are enough. Guidance policies do not have the force of law, and the DEP cannot make the drillers follow them. The DEP can only ask the industry "pretty please" to follow them while drilling wells that cost $3 to $6 million each to drill (6 wells to a well pad). Each well requires millions of gallons of water and the sites disturb five acres or more. The sites are small industrial complexes, where the drillers operate 24/7, and it takes them up to six months to finish just drilling the first well on the site. Current law allows these wells to be drilled within 200 feet of people's homes!
In addition to the around-the-clock industrial noise and lighting, those living nearby must contend with air quality degradation from flaring, storage tanks and combustion engines on drill rigs, trucks and compressor stations, as well as increased truck traffic on roads.
There is also a potential for serious accidents. The Northern Panhandle area has experienced three major fires and explosions in the past 18 months. And, if this were not enough, the state allows the drilling companies to bury the drill cuttings and other drilling waste, some of which contain low levels of naturally occurring radioactive materials, in unmarked pits on surface owners' land.
How can the industry say we should be issuing new permits before dealing with all these problems?
The industry is doing a PR campaign because it thinks it is getting a bad rap. The reason the industry has a bad rap, is best illustrated by the early disposal methods for Marcellus Shale frac water that returns to the surface after they frac the well. We asked the industry what they were doing with the frac water and they would not tell us. We found out where it was going when the people in Pittsburgh complained that their water tasted funny. The drillers were paying cities to put the salt and chemical laden frac water that flowed back to the surface into municipal sewage treatment plants that are designed to treat bacteria! It was then that the DEP reacted. Who says there have been no crises?