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West Virginia Oil/Gas Panel Begins Safety Review

West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's Oil and Natural Gas Industry Safety Commission met for the first time last week to begin its study of how the state can better protect well sites, their workers and support personnel.

Until November 2016, when its final report is due to the governor, the group is expected to study current federal and state oil and gas workplace safety regulations and provide recommendations for how to improve them. Tomblin formed the commission with an executive order last month and legislation is expected to result from its work in the future (see Shale Daily, July 9).

The 19-member group, which includes secretaries from the Departments of Environmental Protection, Commerce, Transportation, and Military Affairs and Public Safety, spent its first meeting reviewing emergency preparedness, federal regulations, pipeline and transportation safety. It also reviewed accidents, which have spiked sharply in the state over the last decade with the increase in Marcellus Shale drilling.

Tomblin has said safety must be a priority for the industry. Between 2008 and 2012, 13 employees in the state's oil and gas industry died, or more than double the five who died in industry accidents between 2004 and 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The group is also expected to look to the state's handling of coal production in the past to see where it failed that industry following a number of historic mining disasters in the state. It's also expected to review response plans to strengthen them in the event of an oil and gas disaster. Much of the first meeting was spent discussing the complexity of drilling for oil and natural gas and the dangers it poses for those on site.

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