WV Has New Marcellus Drilling Law in Record Time

horizontal hydraulic fracturingA new Marcellus drilling law (highlights of the law listed below) passed in a special session of the West Virginia legislature and has been signed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin into law. Yesterday, the WV House of Delegates voted 92-5 and the Senate voted 33-0 to pass the measure, known as the “Horizontal Well Act,” which was immediately signed by the governor.

Although it only took the WV legislature four days in a special session to pass the measure, in reality, it has taken most of this year to draft, tweak and alter the language of the bill to prepare it ahead of the special session.

The bulk of the bill addresses natural gas operations that use horizontal drilling and disturb more than three acres of surface, excluding roads, pipelines or gathering lines. Horizontal operations using more than 210,000 gallons of water per month also are included.

Drilling sites that were established prior to the effective date of the "Horizontal Well Act" will not be subject to the new requirements.*

Highlights of what is in the new law:

  • Permit fees will be raised to $10,000 per first well and $5,000 per well drilled from the same pad.
  • WV DEP oil and gas supervisors will have a minimum salary of $40,000 per year, and inspectors a minimum salary of $35,000 per year.
  • The WV DEP will have authority to make adjustments to changing technologies in the process of drilling and casing a well.
  • Management of road issues caused by the heavy machinery and traffic generated by drilling activity to the Division of Highways, and drillers will need to clear a plan with the DOH before drilling can begin.
  • Surface owners will have 30 days (up from 15) to file comments on new drilling permits.
  • Surface owners must receive 72 hours notice before a survey is conducted on their property.
  • Surface owners must receive seven days’ notice before drilling is to begin on their property.
  • Surface owners must be compensated for lost crops and timber and damage to water supplies and personal property.
  • Permit applications from drillers will require more information, including the depth they plan to drill, the rock formations they want to drill, how they will case the well, a soil and erosion plan, a safety plan and more.
  • Certain minimum distances from a drilled well and other structures: 250 feet of existing water wells; 625 feet of another well and certain agricultural structures; 100 feet of any perennial stream, water body or wetland; 300 feet of a naturally producing trout stream or 1,000 feet of a public surface water or groundwater intake.
  • Drillers must provide a water management for each operation, and they must also disclose all chemicals used in fracking fluids.
  • Drill cuttings and leftover solids must go to a landfill unless the DEP approves on-site management.
  • Operators with pits or impoundments that hold more than 210,000 gallons of water will be regulated by the DEP.
  • Once drilling is complete, operators have six months to reclaim the drilling site for a single pad.
  • Drillers must obtain a $50,000 performance bond, or if there are multiple wells in an operation, a $250,000 bond to cover all of them.*

None of the parties who are involved in the debate over gas drilling are particularly happy with the new law. The West Virginia Surface Owners Rights Organization takes issue with a number of provisions. The West Virginia Environmental Council called the new law disappointing. And members of the gas drilling industry are not happy with certain parts of the law, including the language of the setback provisions (minimum distances from certain structures for wells). However, the industry is willing to support the law in return for “predictability” in drilling in the state.

No doubt more tweaks and changes will be made in the coming months and years.

For a copy of the amended House version of the bill, which MDN believes to contain the final language, visit this page.

*The State Journal (Dec 14, 2011) – Approved Marcellus bill took months of work by W.Va. lawmakers, governor

  • Anonymous

    The new gas regulations recently passed by the WV legislature called the Horizontal Well Act provides more protection for trout than to the humans in our state who are not served by public water but must depend upon private water sources like springs and wells.  Wouldn’t you think that these people who number more than 343,000 or almost double the population of Kanawha County, would at least get the same protection as a trout stream?  Instead trout streams and even public water supplies have gas well setback distances measured from the edge of a gas well pad whereas those who depend upon private water sources have a setback distance measured from the well bore.  And as the width of the well pad gets wider, the private water source moves closer to the edge of the pad.  If one assumes, for the sake of argument, the well bore is in the center of the gas well pad then once the pad reaches 500 feet in width the private water source will be at the edge of the pad and a pad over 500 feet puts the private source within the pad itself.
     The House Judiciary added an amendment to the bill for the WV DEP to do studies on noise, light, dust and VOC pollution to determine if the bill’s gas well setback from a dwelling needs to be changed.  There was no such amendment added for a study to determine if the gas well setback from private water sources needs greater protection.
    So why did this legislature give more protection to trout streams than private water sources?  Because the gas industry wanted a low number attached to the gas well setback distance from private water sources and Governor Tomblin chose to give it to them.   In fact, this 250 foot setback from the gas well bore and the private water source is only 50 feet more than what has been on the books for 30 years.  Tomblin and the WV legislature chose to kowtow to the gas industry at the expense of those more than 343,000 individuals who depend upon private water sources.  Shame on them.

  • Anonymous

    Mr Fedup, Can you cite any documented example of drilling activity contaminating a fresh water well in WV or anywhere else? If the setback laws on the books for 30 years have been adequate and they are increasing the setback then what is the problem? This is a good bill and shows the industry that we care about how they do things but we DO want them here.

  • This is why the O&G Industry loves PA more!   In PA, we don’t seem to really care about safety first. “Ready, Fire, Aim” is our motto.

  • Anonymous

    No Fedup and Meryl its called moving forward, progression, or what ever you want to call it. Its local Government knowing the needs of its communities, getting out of the way and making the economic ball roll without over regulating an industry, and actually making it happen.WVDEP will do its job to ensure the industry is performing according to regulations set forth. Only, WV knows what they have and are not stalling,or giving in to the ” Occupy Wall Street” mentality of  just saying NO, to everything. NY pay close attention!! They can actually get bills, regulation changes written and ratified in a normal time period. NY three years and dragging!!   Andy & Martens how about making a call over to Governor Tomblin, He can teach you both how to get things done efficiently. Oh! by the way Fedup4789 , if  WV is making sure the Trout streams are clean, you can bet that your well will be too.

  • Anonymous

    It is a travesty that the regs mandate well placement three times the distance from trout streams as compared to human drinking water.

  • The point you’re missing here wacoyaco, is that the frenzied pace at which drilling has been allowed to continue in PA without ANY real regulation in place to provide a level of protection and accountability for the affected citizens here is simply a disgrace. It has already led to untold disruption and damage to life and property, with affected people being placed under gag-orders or left helpless. To drill or not to drill is NOT the question here. Protecting the people in these PA communities (of which I am one) from UNnecessary sacrifice IS the question, and something our PA lawmakers to date have been completely unwilling to address. Industry efficiency must not be the only consideration here, and must be secondary to the safety of our families.

    I hope the drillers and PA lawmakers love their children too. And I hope they love them more than money.

  • Anonymous

    Meryl, I must say that was a thought out reply, and I could not agree with you more.Although I am pro drilling, I too want it regulated, as safe as humanly possible, and with local government oversight. But being a realistic person, there will be some accidents that  will occur during the process.What I have read so far at MDN and other articles is that the companies responsible for these mistakes are trying to work with landowners to rectify the situations and then pay large amounts of money on top of that to the Landowners for these mistakes( Ex. Cabot). I own land in NY, lost two businesses from the 2007 recession, and am barely holding on, still 5 years later. There are millions out there like me. This is a way back out. It also has numerous other advantages for this country Jobs, Business growth,Economic growth, ETC.), its not just about me. Don’t you think its the right time to make the move off of foreign oil? There is enough Natural Gas to heat every house and gas every car for over 100 years!! with less than 1/2 the emissions!! I’m tired of paying $3.00 to $ 4.00 per gallon, and the money goes over there, not here. I’m tired of China owning our country. How about you? Yes , Meryl, I want drilling regulated, safe, I am glad there are watch dog people like yourself pointing out any deficiency in the business and their faulty practices. In time they all will be weeded out. We must however move forward carefully. Just saying ” NO” is not an option.

  • I would love the opportunity to discuss this with you further offline, wacoyaco, but not sure how to make that happen, so this will have to do.
    I do understand and appreciate your position on this, and thank you for agreeing that safety is critical.  You are lucky to be living in NY where your legislature seems to be taking the health concerns seriously and proceeding with caution.  However, here in PA it is an entirely different story.  Our Governor has been paid handsomely by the O&G industry in exchange for paving their way forward with as little regulation as possible. It is also next to impossible in PA Courts to have the industry held accountable for damages to private citizens. We are not just talking about occasional accidents here, but an onslaught due to inefficient training of “roughnecks”, lack of oversight, lack of regulation, and the push for “faster and cheaper” which has been proven to NOT be “better”, but only faster and cheaper.

    While I do believe there are better ways to reduce our foreign oil dependence through enhanced efforts toward renewable energy sources, I too am a realist and know this will continue whether I like it or not.  But much the “benefits” that you point out are really only industry generated hype and dramatically overblown. For instance:
    Many of the landowners here whose water wells have been contaminated have been provided with a water buffalo on their lawn for drinking and showering, in exchange for signing a gag-order so the industry can keep their dirty little secret, and little else. This might be ok for those who have signed leases and are collecting royalties and can afford to move away out of this danger zone, but for those who have not, they are left to pay attorneys fees to wage battles that are tied up in courts indefinitely. While a few have been settled, PA lawmakers do all within their power to prevent this industry from being held accountable.  
    As for the jobs, most are temporary, while the long term damage to water and air is not.
    And, as for the 100 year claims of Marcellus gas for heating homes and cars across America, that is simply more industry propaganda. Many investors have discovered this and are calling this fevered push by O&G insiders the “biggest ponzi scheme ever”. Just read this recent article in FORBES: //www.forbes.com/sites/ericagies/2011/06/27/industry-insiders-call-shale-gas-a-ponzi-scheme-invoke-enron-nyt-report/

    All in all, I’m not saying NO, I’m just saying don’t believe everything this industry (or our legislature) is saying. Our lives are more important than this industry’s profits.

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  • Anonymous

    Meryl, very sorry to hear that PA  Government/ Governor is not doing its job to protect against faulty drilling practices.These atrocities should be made public and Gas companies held morally and financially accountable. Although the people affected by this has a ” Gag Order”( I dont understand that at all) in place,it should not stop other media sources from bringing these stories to the general public. Why hasn’t the news in PA, have this on national TV? ( 20/20, Dateline NBC, etc.) I personally need more proof than someone just stating “My water was poisoned by  ( Blank) drilling company”. Was there a methane problem prior to drilling, which occurs naturally in many instances? Did the drilling outfit, drill using the mandated regulations that are in place? Who inspected the drilling site, to ensure it was done properly? Is there an actual leak, that shows the casing was breached or installed improperly? How was the issue resolved? I am a retired Police Officer, and before I would make any accusations, I first get all the facts together then make a decision on how to proceed. I always ask the 5 W’s ( Who, What, Where When, Why). This procedure will always get to the” Truth”. I have been following much of the “Marcellus Shale” news and propaganda. I do know that there are thousands of fracked wells across this country producing plenty of gas without any incident at all.Pipelines are being installed, Plants built, Billions on infrastructure so the Gas can be transported efficiently. Ponzi scheme the article said, I think not. These big companies know what they have, and are getting equipped, to make billions of dollars. They first have to spend billions to get there.That is what America is all about.However, I do know that there are and will be companies out there that will try to cut corners, and ultimately cause environmental harm, for the old mighty dollar. It is the responsibility of the local our governments ( DEP) to ensure these companies are extremely punished financially and banned from drilling if rules, regulations and procedure infractions occur.It is also our responsibility to ensure our government does their job too ( Voting). This still can not negate gathering the resource and getting us away from Foreign Oil”.  Again, I am sorry what has happened in your community in PA. I just need more proof that the gas companies drilling practices were at fault and caused this, and the local government did nothing to stop it. Secondly, you made a claim that the Governor of your state was ” Paid Off”, very serious accusation there! I am not a fan of government ( mostly inefficient), but what you stated was criminal. Do you have any proof of that? I also find it hard to believe that all the PA courts are biased. In my years of law enforcement I found the courts usually leaned more for the citizens, if there is a case of ” The Big Company” stomping on the average Joe/Jane citizen, and there is “proof”. Citizen usually fairs well. Correct me if I’m wrong. but I heard the unemployment rate in the upper PA region was around 3%- 4 %. In upstate NY and most of this country its more like 20-25 %, not the 9 % the feds have you believe.This is a long reply, sorry but had to get it all in. Finally, with the Social media/ networking out there today, it would be very difficult for companies as you say to ” Keep their dirty little secrets”, secret. The screaming anti’s are everywhere , there is always someone watching someone. I don’t believe everything I read ( especially in the biased NY Times). But as I continue to educate myself on the process and the companies involved and whats a stake here in America and internationally I’m still very pro drilling.Proceed with caution and I do pray that everyone involved does their part to ensure its done safely and ethically .

  • Wow… if only there were a few more rational people such as yourself (on either side, mind you), the conversation regarding gas extraction would be a heck of a lot more reasonable.  I’ve grown so tired of endless yelling (again, both sides) that I don’t even comment on here anymore.  I’m a scientist and try to inject the actual, you know, SCIENCE in to some of the posts, but it’s all lost.
    Glad folks are still educating themselves and weighing the options appropriately.  Cheers!

  • Wacoyaco, I like the way your mind works. You do appear to be someone who is open to evaluating the facts and I hope you will continue to do your own research rather than just take one side or the other at face value. I’ll make this my last reply and brief.  For your edification, here are two links to review to get you started:
    1. Follow the money: //www.marcellus-shale.us/political-contributions.htm#2010
    2. As for water wells: //switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/amall/incidents_where_hydraulic_frac.html

    I hope you read between the lines. Where there’s smoke, there is usually fire.

  • Anonymous

    Meryl, Its also a breath of fresh air( no pun intended) to engage in constructive dialogue, even though we do not agree on every issue, it seems your open minded also . I read the links you posted and this is my opinion on them.First, I would also like to see the other losing candidates contributors list, too.But, usually the winner gets scrutinized . It is quite clear the Gas industry endorsed Governor Corbett and his campaign and put lots of money out to go along with it!! I guess if I was Governor Corbett, I would have a lot of favors to pay back.lol. That is American politics at work. It has been that way for decades and I don’t believe its going to change anytime soon. Money talks in this country. Most politicians are millionaires,or live very affluent life styles  and they got that way by those techniques. When they are voted in and out of office, often they have cushy Jobs waiting on the other side from all the back scratching going on while in and out of office.Yes ,Meryl it makes me mad. But its legal. Until the Government, governs themselves( which won’t happen) and changes the rules( not likely) this will continue, As Forest Gump says ” That’s all I got to say about that”. Now the juicy article #2, I do read between the lines and in my opinion there ” May” be issues in some of those wells directly related to drilling. But, that website is very biased and very anti drilling( which I have no problem with). Did they investigate each contamination with the 5 W’s, I’ve mentioned on my last reply. I say NO, They were written with much generality,pointing fingers, no real factual data. When all those W’s are answered I promise you the truth will come out.I will state this again, that is why we communicate well, if there is ” Proof” that a drilling operation did not follow the proper procedure and cut a corner, they should be heavily fined, and sanctioned from drilling. If that happens a few times, it will set a precedent and every company that thinks they might try to cut a corner will eventually comply or face losing their ability to drill period. I’m not sure how many Fracking Wells have been drilled across the United States, but it must be many thousands if not hundreds of thousands that are active or plugged, I counted 42 wells that have possible contamination  from Fracking across the whole United States from that article. For argument sake lets say 50% of those (21 wells) are found to be contaminated as a direct result from poor drilling techniques. What do we do? Shut down the whole industry? No. That article tells me that there are many other companies out there doing it right. That the percentage of accidents either on purpose or accidental is very low.It further tells me, If proper procedure and oversight are followed then this can be done safely. Yes, Meryl, I would like to see that number be zero, realistically that wont happen, but it could be lower, if Government oversight was important. Those companies found guilty of bad practices, should pay dearly. On a final note, Meryl Why are companies still allowed to sell Cigarettes? It has been proven that it causes cancer,it has killed millions of Americans, yet no one or group screams about that!!. Still It poisons the air, the ground around us,I see the butts floating in our lakes, streams Ocean. How many people died from Fracking? Food for thought.

  • Anonymous

    Hey Area man, most of us on this post would like to learn more about the fracking process from professionals like yourself. I clicked on your name and did not see any other posts on MDN. Please enlighten us on your Scientific views and data .There are some on this blog that are just haters and have nothing important to say except” NO”. They are easy to spot and usually not worth a reply.

  • Agreed – but I’ve definitely posted around here before, not sure why they’re not showing up.  Perhaps it has been too long since I’ve thrown my hat in.

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