A bill that would have changed West Virginia's regulation of Marcellus Shale drilling was not brought up for a final vote by the House of Delegates during the final day of its 2011 regular session Friday and so will not become law this year.
A Senate version of the Natural Gas Horizontal Well Control Act (SB 424) had been approved earlier this month (see Shale Daily, March 4) and the House Finance Committee passed its own version of the bill Thursday with a recommendation for approval (see Shale Daily, March 11). But the watered down House version of the bill, which would have needed to be reconciled with the Senate version before final approval, was never voted on by the full House.
The bill approved by the Finance Committee was markedly different from that originally proposed by the state's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) (see Shale Daily, Feb. 11). In an effort to fund a larger staff and more oil and gas inspectors, DEP had proposed increasing horizontal drilling permit fees to $10,000 from the current $650 paid by all drillers. The Senate version of the bill called for $5,000 horizontal drilling permit fees, while the final House version would have postponed fee-setting until later in the legislative process.
SB 424 would have required drillers to give surface owners advance notice of any seismic activity on or near their property; prohibit oil and gas wells from being drilled within 1,000 feet of water wells and homes; and require drillers to submit detailed water management plans and lists of chemicals to be used in hydraulic fracturing. Language that would have allowed forced pooling was previously removed from the bill.
More personnel are needed because of the growing number of horizontal well sites in the state, according to DEP Secretary Randy Huffman, who told the committee that horizontal drilling sites are "significantly larger" than conventional well sites.
"I believe in the short term we can get by" with the current number of inspectors, Huffman told the House Finance Committee last week. Enlarging DEP staff is "not something that could be done overnight; it's something that would have to be done over time."
DEP had asked legislators to increase to 66 the number of oil and gas inspectors and permits handlers on its payroll from the current 32, who are tasked with covering approximately 59,000 wells -- about 750 of them active -- across the state.
The legislature did approve another bill (SB 465), which redirects $2 million of the oil and gas severance tax revenue already collected by the state to a fund to be administered by the DEP. SB 465 now awaits Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's signature.