The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has told key state legislators that no additional requirements are needed to protect the air quality from horizontal oil and gas drilling.
In a letter to state Senate President Jeff Kessler (D-Marshall) and Speaker of the House of Delegates Tim Miley (D-Harrison), DEP's James Martin, chief of the Office of Oil and Gas, said regulators had completed an air impact study, which was the third and final report mandated under the state's Natural Gas Horizontal Wells Control Act. The law followed increased drilling from the state's portion of the Marcellus Shale.
"Based on a review of several completed air studies to date, including the results from the well pad development monitoring conducted in West Virginia's Brooke, Marion and Wetzel counties, no additional legislative rules establishing special requirements need to be promulgated at this time," Martin said in the June 28 letter.
Section 22-6A-22 of the gas wells act called for the DEP to study air pollution at well sites and release a report by July 1 (see Shale Daily, Feb. 1). The report was to address "the possible health impacts, the need for air quality inspections during drilling, the need for inspections of compressors, pits and impoundments, and any other potential air quality impacts that could be generated from this type of drilling activity that could harm human health or the environment." The DEP Secretary, currently Randy Huffman, was also empowered under the law to propose rules governing air pollution.
In the report, the DEP said there were many other air quality studies being conducted at horizontal well sites, and more information would be available to lawmakers in the future. "Once available, this data will help advance and guide future rule development," the DEP stated. "In the meantime, the existing regulatory framework provides a basis for implementation of requirements to minimize and mitigate human health and environmental impacts."
The DEP was also required under the law to study well location restrictions, while focusing on noise, light, dust and volatile organic compounds from drilling operations, and also pits and impoundments. Regulators "found that while there were no indications of a public health emergency or threat based on air data obtained in the study, potential impacts from various well pad geometries existed," said Martin. In particular, the DEP said legislators may wish to reconsider the current 625-foot setback from a well pad center to an occupied dwelling.
"While the statutorily specified location restriction is defined to be from the center of the well pad, there are a wide variety of pad sizes and configurations that may allow an occupied dwelling to be close to a well pad," the DEP noted. One idea for legislators to consider, the agency said, would be a location restriction from the limit of disturbance (LOD) of the well pad. Such a move would "provide for a more consistent and protective safeguard for residents in affected areas. The outermost sediment control barrier establishes the LOD around the well pad."
West Virginia officials are hopeful that the gas well act will generate $2.4 million in fees annually, which the DEP plans to use to hire additional field inspectors and permit reviewers as it handles a growing caseload in the Marcellus Shale.