West Virginia Governor Tomblin Asks For Better Regulations On Marcellus Shale Drilling
Charleston, WV – Marcellus Shale drilling is already a fact of life in many parts of West Virginia. With that in mind, acting West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin issued an executive order on July 12th during a press conference in Charleston. Citing the importance of natural gas extraction to the state’s economy, Tomblin says they need to move forward on this issue.
“That is why I have issued an executive order directing the West Virginia Dept of Environmental Protection to take additional steps to properly regulate horizontal drilling” says Tomblin. “I believe it is necessary that the DEP take immediate action, and I have also authorized [DEP] Secretary [Randy] Huffman to use his emergency rule making authority to protect the public health, safety and welfare of our citizens.”
Tomblin says his order asks for specific information from the gas drilling companies.
“They must provide a list of additives that will be used in the water for fracking, both before the activity begins and after it is completed” says Tomblin. “Companies withdrawing over 210,000 gallons of water a month must develop and file a water management plan with the DEP and adhere to surface specified standards. Water withdrawal locations must be identified as such. When using water from a public stream, a company must identify the designated and existing uses of that stream.”
Additionally, the order says that any site over 3 acres must be certified by and constructed using plans by a registered professional engineer. Tomblin is also asking DEP Secretary Randy Huffman to review all current DEP regulations regarding horizontal drilling.
Putting the new regulations into effect may be the easy part – enforcing them without more DEP inspectors is another issue. The West Virginia legislature declined to pass legislation in the last session that would have increased drilling fees to allow the DEP to hire more well inspectors. Secretary Huffman says they will do the best they can with the staff they have.
“This is a ramp up process, it’s not something that will happen overnight” he says. “We will adjust and modify the program as we go forward.”
And while the new regulations will apply to new permit applications, it’s less clear how they will apply to existing operations.
“Obviously it would impact new applications; if the site is already permitted, it would be difficult to go back and make that retroactive” says Huffman. “Haven’t thought that through yet – good question.”
“I think going back and changing those would have the same effect as EPA’s of Spruce Number One permit” says Tomblin.
Tomblin also used the press conference to blast the EPA for what he calls the over-reaching rule making activities of that agency. The executive order does give Secretary Huffman authority to issue emergency rules to protect the environment and people that will have the force of law for up to 15 months. During that time, the House and Senate will be working to create a more permanent set of rules and regulations. Governor Tomblin says he’s also willing to call for a special legislative session provided legislators and the DEP can find agreement on this issue.