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