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West Virginia Unlikely to Shut Morgantown Wells

West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Randy Huffman told NGI's Shale Daily it is unlikely that the DEP would honor a request by the City of Morgantown to issue a stop work order on two Marcellus Shale gas wells in the city's industrial park.

During a break at the U.S. Secretary of Energy Advisory Board Natural Gas Subcommittee meeting on Thursday in Washington, DC, Huffman added that, to his knowledge, the DEP had never issued a stop work order or revoked a permit at the request of a municipality.

"These permits were issued in good faith," Huffman said. "We would not have any reason to intervene and stop a permit after it's been issued [unless] there were some kind of imminent harm. Once a permit has been lawfully issued you shouldn't go back and revoke it."

At issue are two wells owned by Northeast Natural Energy LLC (NNE). The DEP amended the wells' two permits on May 19, thereby allowing the Charleston, WV-based company to include closed-loop drilling systems for both the air-drilled and fluid-drilled portions of wells. The change came after negotiations between NNE and the city's utility board (see Shale Daily, May 25).

But the Morgantown City Council appears poised to pass two resolutions calling for an outright ban of Marcellus Shale drilling within the city limits and asking the DEP to issue a stop work order for the NNE wells. Passage of those two resolutions could occur as early as June 21 (see Shale Daily, June 2).

"There is a lot of misinformation out there," Huffman said. "There's some sensationalism going on, not necessarily deliberate, but it is happening nonetheless. That's what happens when people are not fully informed. I don't take away from the fact that they have an argument to make, that they are concerned. But this is a zero-discharge operation. There are many industrial permits within sight of this location that are discharging pollutants into the Monongahela River. It seems strange that people are more concerned over a discharge that is not happening than over multiple discharges that are."

Huffman said he had not yet met with Morgantown officials, but after Thursday's subcommittee meeting he and his staff were to travel to the region for a meeting with the Upper Monongahela River Association, an environmental group based in Granville, WV.

"We'll likely take a bath, take a beating, but it comes with the territory," Huffman said. "But there is a notion of more wells coming into the area. That's a different issue than wanting these two wells shut down. There are likely to be more permit applications filed in the future, and more drilling taking place in that general area."

The state of West Virginia received 622 new Marcellus oil and gas 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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