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Marcellus Legislation Grinds Gears Moving Forward
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by Chuck Wyrostok, Outreach Coordinator | 2011

Slowly but surely some good work by the legislative committee moves regulation of Marcellus drilling forward -- We Hope!

The road to meaningful Marcellus drilling regulation is rife with potholes and ruts, much like the local roads torn up by the hundreds of heavy trucks moving rigs, water, chemicals and sand to and from drilling sites across West Virginia.

Here’s a roadmap. The Marcellus Select Committee is working with a bill that passed the State Senate this past regular session but died in the House of Delegates. It is considering a series of more than twenty amendments so that a consensus can be reached for a new bill in the next regular session or a possible special session before the end of this year.

At meetings on Oct. 12 &13, the ten Delegates and Senators — a mix of citizen advocates and obstructionists, some of whom want realistic guards in the law and others who think the government should function as a chamber of commerce — sparred politely. There are the minions of industry who would just as soon say there is risk to everything, so let ‘er rip. They wouldn’t mind an industrialized countryside spiking local businesses. And then there are people of conscience.

Prior to October, the Committee had managed to pass more than twenty amendments, many of them quite good (see http://www.legis.state.wv.us/committees/interims/committee.cfm?abb=Marcellus ). Currently, they have expanded the buffer zone between Marcellus shale wells and homes, livestock, and drinking water from 200 feet to 625 feet. Other provisions keep drilling wells 250 feet from drinking wells or springs, 1,000 feet from public water supply intake points and 300 feet from a recognized trout stream. The committee also agreed to allow the DEP secretary to increase this spacing if scientific evidence shows unacceptable health risks to residents of the nearby house. Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer proposed that amendment while also advocating, without success, for larger buffers.

Advocates stood their ground on the $10,000 drilling application fee (even though DEP head Randy Huffman gave up yardage by reducing his request to $5,000), compromised on water protection and casing requirements, and put off final discussion of surface-use agreements.

The committee heard from Marion County resident Casey Griffith, who said the dream house he built with his wife has been ruined by a well site about 200 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 (see related story, this page). Co-chairs Manchin and Facemire said they believe the committee can handle the final amendments, including inspector qualifications, Karst cavern drilling, and surface use agreements, in one last meeting around Oct. 22 in order to pave the way for a November special session.

So, in the next months, if the Select Committee agrees on a bill, the legislature will take it up and decide the overall impact — five-acre drill pads, trees and pastures leveled for roads to handle heavy equipment and huge trucks, waste pits the size of football fields filled with toxic flowback, choking air pollution, 24-hour noise, ruined water wells, spills, fires, and explosions. Are they up to it? Maybe they can benefit from some citizen input.

What You Can Do

• We are keeping those interested abreast of what’s being done (or not done) at the Capitol by email because we want our voices to be heard as soon as they are needed. If you are not yet signed up, we need you. Please send an email to outreach@marcellus-wv.com to join the push. You may call members of the Select Committee on Marcellus toll-free at 877-565-3447. Senator Facemire is Co-Chair along with Senators Facemyer, Klempa, Palumbo and Snyder. Delegate Manchin is Co-Chair along with Delegates Fleischauer, Anderson, Ireland and Tom Campbell. Tell them you want the strongest possible regulations and nothing less.

• Encourage your County Commissioners to take the Wetzel County Marcellus drilling tour, provided by folks there whose lives have been profoundly affected by the drilling rush. Pocahontas County Commissioners who made the trip went home with a graphic impression of what the future might hold. More info on this at outreach@marcellus-wv.com or 877-252-0257

• Check out WV Sierra Club’s Marcellus ad campaign at www.keepWVbeautiful.com

A few choice excerpts from the mid-October meetings:

Marion County resident Casey Griffith testified, “I want to encourage you guys to make a smart decision on behalf of your constituents,” urging them to approve a 1,000-foot buffer zone. “My agenda is to protect other residents from what my wife and I have had to tolerate for two years.” A gas company drilled a well 120 feet from the dream home he and his wife built and the family has suffered disruption and turmoil since 2009.

Delegate Woody Ireland, R-Ritchie, voiced his impatience with the delays the committee has faced. “We need to set things and get on down the way. We have piddled around, if you will, with this whole affair for a number of months now. ... Let’s get on down the road.” He expressed frustration that neither the DEP nor the industry has any hard data regarding noise, volatile organic compounds, or dust and air pollution. “We’re trying to deal with an issue we don’t know anything about.”

DEP Secretary Randy Huffman balked at a legislative rule proposal, saying his staff lacks the experts on health issues. Committee co-chair Delegate Tim Manchin, D-Marion, corrected Huffman, pointing out that code requires the DEP to address health issues. And Delegate Bill Anderson, R-Wood, added that Huffman could use permit fee increases to hire or contract someone for the job.

Del. Mike Manypenny, D-Taylor, who sat in on the committee meetings, said, “I think one of the things we really need to do to correct this problem is to require best management practices,” with closed-loop systems to avoid dispersal of chemicals, fumes, dust and particulate matter.

Sen. Karen Facemyer, R-Jackson, opposed the drilling application fee increase. “What is the rush on this?” she asked. The bill still has to go through both chambers at a special session. “If we can get by with a couple hundred or a couple thousand dollar fee, as opposed to $10,000, why not do that? Why are we always assuming that the industry is the bad guy? We’re trying to make this state a business-friendly state.”

Sen. Orphy Klempa, D-Ohio, who devised the amendment up for reconsideration, opposed Facemyer. “The rush is, this has been going on for two years, almost three. Constituents call. There’s no comfort level that the environment’s being protected correctly. You get a sense of urgency. I don’t think two years and three years is rushing anything.”

Drillers are working the Northern Panhandle, he said. “They’re up there going guns ablaze. There’s money to be made in this. This $35,000 permit for six wells on a site isn’t going to run the industry out of the Northern Panhandle, but it will give the people I’ve been sent down here to represent a sense of security and sense of knowing that they’re being protected.”

The committee approved the higher fees by a vote of 8 to 1, with only Facemyer voting against.

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