Statement from WV Environmental, Labor, Health and Public Interest Organizations
We the undersigned unanimously agree that the Executive Order issued by acting Governor Earl Ray Tomblin is inadequate and leaves communities vulnerable, while continuing to let the gas industry run roughshod over West Virginia.
The Senate should not be using the Executive Order as an excuse for stalling. Instead, the Senate should impose a moratorium on permits until a comprehensive bill becomes effective.
Many people, including Senate members of the Select Committee on Marcellus Shale, are under the illusion that the Executive Order and the resulting emergency rules are adequate enough to ensure safe, responsible development of the Marcellus Shale.
However, a number of important issues remain unaddressed.
Nothing in the Executive Order addresses protection from air pollution, noise, truck traffic destroying roads, radiation, or the cumulative impact of multiple wells in a community.
While the Executive Order does require public notice of well permits inside a municipality, it does not provide an opportunity for the public to comment on such permits and influence the permit conditions, nor does it require public notice and comment for well permits in rural areas.
Surface owners remain at risk from unilateral decisions by the gas companies. There is no requirement for drillers to negotiate with surface owners on the location of well sites and access roads or that drillers accommodate surface owners’ concerns, plans for or uses of their property.
Other items missing from the Executive Order include:
Protection for karst (limestone) areas.
Protection for parks or other public lands.
A TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) standard for water.
Elimination of the industry-influenced Oil and Gas Inspectors Examining Board in favor of a civil service type of hiring procedure.
Protective/adequate distances between large drill sites and homes, schools, hospitals and other sensitive places.
Expanded water well testing requirements.
Improvements to bonding requirements.
Disposal of toxic waste from well sites restricted to landfills designed to accept hazardous waste.
Additionally, regulations are only as good as their enforcement and with only 15 inspectors for 59,000 active gas wells, we remain concerned about the DEP’s ability to adequately protect citizens and the environment from the threats Marcellus development poses to human health and our land, air and water. Unfortunately, the emergency rules filed as a result of the Executive Order will not raise permit fees and will not provide money for more inspectors to enforce even those emergency rules.
DEP has already permitted 1,602 Marcellus wells in West Virginia. Of those, 942 of those are completed and producing and the agency is on track to issue another 400 permits this year.
We believe it is irresponsible for the acting Governor and the Legislature to allow the DEP to continue to issue new permits without having a comprehensive regulatory structure in place and without having enough inspectors on staff to ensure adequate enforcement. We appreciate that acting Governor Tomblin has recognized that there are problems, but the Executive Order does not go far enough.
It remains imperative for the Legislature to act.
Until that time there should be a moratorium on new permits.
In conclusion, acting Governor Tomblin’s Executive Order and the resulting emergency rules should not be construed as a solution to the many problems related to Marcellus Shale and other gas well drilling.
Far from it.
The Select Committee assigned to craft meaningful legislation, especially the Senators, need to step up to address these problems, and they must do so quickly — next year is unacceptable.
Although the draft legislation the committee is using as a starting point is also deficient in terms of addressing several issues of concern, a number of strengthening amendments were offered and adopted when the committee met earlier this month. We want to see the committee reconvene to continue its work and make the needed improvements to the bill.
Greenbrier River Watershed Association
Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition
Sierra Club West Virginia Chapter
West Virginia Citizens Action Group
West Virginia Highlands Conservancy
West Virginia Surface Owners Rights Organization