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West Virginia City Moves Against Two Gas Wells

City officials in Morgantown, WV, were scheduled to meet Tuesday night to discuss two resolutions targeting two Marcellus Shale gas wells in the city's industrial park and take up a proposed watershed protection ordinance.

The Morgantown City Council Committee of the Whole planned to meet to discuss the wells and efforts to prevent water contamination, but no official action was expected to be taken. According to the agenda for Tuesday's meeting, the committee -- which is composed of City Council members -- was to consider a resolution advocating municipalities be empowered to protect drinking water supplies and the public health "from Marcellus Shale drilling."

A second resolution calls for asking the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to issue a stop work order for wells "within one mile of the Morgantown water supply intake until secure protection of municipal drinking water supplies, as well as public health, public safety and welfare, can be assured."

The DEP amended two permits for two wells owned by Northeast Natural Energy LLC (NNE) on May 19. The change allows Charleston, WV-based NNE to include closed-loop drilling systems for both the air-drilled and fluid-drilled portions of wells, which are located in the Morgantown Industrial Park (see Shale Daily, May 25).

Morgantown Deputy Clerk Bethany Sypolt told NGI's Shale Daily on Tuesday that if committee members pass the proposed resolutions, they would advance to a first reading by the City Council on June 7. She said a public hearing would be required on the matter before a second reading and possible adoption on June 21.

Although Sypolt said she wasn't sure if the resolutions were in response specifically to the NNE wells, company spokesman Brett Loflin agreed that the city's moves were "inconsequential."

"Other cities have tried to pass resolutions or referendums for limiting oil and gas development within city limits," Loflin told NGI's Shale Daily on Tuesday. "We're outside the city limits, and any stop order would have to come from the DEP. We have a permit from the state to drill our wells and complete our operations. I would hope that the DEP's response is that they have reviewed our permit application and our operations."

Loflin said NNE officials would not attend Tuesday night's meeting.

"We haven't really had any dealings with the city itself, just the utility board," Loflin said. "They may try to pass some resolution that may affect future operations. But we should be [able to continue] with the wells that we already have permitted and are drilling. With the closed-loop systems, we're going even farther than what's required in the regulations."

DEP spokeswoman Kathy Cosco could not be reached for comment Tuesday but had previously said closed-loop drilling systems were not a statewide requirement and added that the agency had no current plans to make them mandatory.

The state of West Virginia received 622 new oil and gas Marcellus drilling permit applications within the last year, according to the DEP. Consol Energy led all companies by seeking 110 permits, followed by Chesapeake Energy with 82 and EQT Production with 74. NNE was further down the list with four permit requests.

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