Pocahontas County Commission President Finds Both Hope And Disappointment In New Marcellus Legislation
Marlinton, WV – The West Virginia Marcellus Shale bill, worked out in committee for the last several months, was passed by the West Virginia Senate and House of Delegates. Pocahontas County Commission President David Fleming finds both disappointment and hope in the bill. In a statement from Fleming, he says compared to the bill submitted by the Joint Select Marcellus Committee, Governor Tomblin’s version is substantially stripped of surface owner protections and regulatory mandates. He says this could leave surface owners defenseless against what he calls a corporate version of eminent domain.
Fleming says he and others from the county did travel to Charleston to attend the House Judiciary hearing this past Monday. They spoke about the need to preserve local decision-making authority and protecting the unique karst formations found in this part of the state. Fleming says he’s encouraged that language in the bill preventing local governments from regulating the method of drilling was removed, and language about dealing with karst was added back in. He spoke about his concerns on the karst section during the December edition of Commissioners Corner.
“In particular, sections 22-6A-3 address karst and sections 22-6A-26 address casing standards,” he says. “So there’s significant language there for these areas. Some questions that arise are how should the minimum rules for drilling through karst be expanded to protect ground water; geophysical testing and visual inspection, baseline water flow and quality testing for karst rock to protect springs – it’s mentioned but it’s just not defined.”
In the final bill, the karst section says drillers must work closely with the West Virginia Dept of Environmental Protection when considering drilling in karst geology. At a minimum, drillers would have to perform certain pre-drilling testing to ascertain the location of caves, voids, faults and other relevant formations such as sinkholes. They must also meet any other requirements as designated by the DEP to protect the unique characteristics of the karst including baseline water testing within an established distance from the drilling site. There is however, nothing in the bill that allows the DEP to prevent drilling in karst.
Section 22-6A-24 addresses well casings with rules on everything from protecting ground water and preventing gas migration to detailed information about the casing program, including the size of the bore holes and types of cement that will be used.
The bill also raises the permit fees for a well to $10,000.00 for a first well, and $5000.00 for each additional well on a single pad. That money will go towards hiring at least 17 additional well inspectors, long a bone of contention for many in the state.
It also requires that surface owners be given at least one week’s notice before any surveying can be done. They’re also entitled to get a copy of the permit application and other documents related to drilling location, and road and impoundment locations.
Fleming says he’s has asked attorney Roger Forman to investigate further the removal of the local governmental powers section of the bill to see what the ramifications may mean for local government. Forman, hired as a legal consultant by the Commission, has so far not charged for his service.