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Facing Court Challenge, WV County Amends Injection Well Ban

Facing an industry court challenge, local leaders in Fayette County, WV, have walked back the language in a county-wide injection well ban they passed earlier this year.

Late last week, the Fayette County Commission passed a revised version of an ordinance aimed at banning permanent underground storage of oil and gas drilling waste in the southern West Virginia county.

In January, the commission passed an earlier version of the ordinance, the first of its kind in the state. Local activists had submitted a petition with 5,000 signatures calling for the ban, reportedly prompted by a single injection well operated by a company in Lochgelly, WV (see Shale Daily, Jan. 13).

EQT Production Co. subsequently challenged the rule in U.S. District Court, arguing that the county had exceeded its statutory authority and that the ban was pre-empted by federal and state laws regulating oil and gas drilling and underground injection wells, namely West Virginia’s Oil and Gas Act and Underground Injection Control program and the federal Safe Drinking Water Act (see Shale Daily, Jan. 26). The judge in that case granted a preliminary injunction Feb. 11 preventing Fayette County from enforcing the ban pending further litigation.

That order was amended -- but remains in effect -- to reflect the revised version of the ordinance passed last week. A final hearing in the case is scheduled for June 10.

Fayette County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Elizabeth Campbell told NGI’s Shale Daily on Monday that the revised ordinance clarifies the commission’s original intent to ban only permanent storage of drilling waste in the county. The previous version contained language banning temporary storage of drilling waste, which would have had the “unintended consequence” of banning oil and gas production altogether, she said.

“We’re hoping that it sends the message that the production of oil and natural gas is not something that the county is trying to prevent,” Campbell said. “We think that should be allowed.”

Noting that the ordinance was passed in response to concerns from residents, she said the ban on permanent injection wells is an effort to prevent “hazardous chemicals [from] being introduced into [Fayette County’s] waterways.”

A spokeswoman for EQT declined to comment Monday, citing the ongoing litigation.

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