Although the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has missed deadlines for two of the three studies it was required to perform under the state’s Marcellus Shale regulatory reform law, the agency is close to completing one of the studies and should present it to legislators soon.

Under the Natural Gas Horizontal Wells Control Act, the DEP was to complete a study on well location restrictions by Dec. 31 and a study on pits and impoundments by Jan. 1.

DEP spokeswoman Kathy Cosco told NGI’s Shale Daily that for both overdue studies the agency was waiting for additional contributions from its contractor, researchers from West Virginia University (WVU).

“The pits and impoundment study is complete, but we still are having a conversation with [WVU] about a couple of little corrections that we would like to see made,” Cosco said Wednesday. “It’s just more in the narrative; it has nothing to do with the data. Once we have that, we’ll be presenting it to the legislature.”

Cosco said WVU still had data to submit for the second overdue study, which addresses well location restrictions but is focused on noise, light, dust and volatile organic compounds from drilling operations. “We’re waiting on information from [WVU] to add to it in order to finalize it,” she said.

Both houses of the West Virginia legislature gave the measure, formerly HB 401, overwhelming support during a special session in late December 2011. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin then promptly signed it into law (see Shale Daily, Dec. 27, 2011; Dec. 15, 2011).

Section 22-6A-12 of the law calls on the secretary of the DEP, currently Randy Huffman, to submit to the legislature a report “on the noise, light, dust and volatile organic compounds generated by the drilling of horizontal wells as they relate to the well location restrictions regarding occupied dwelling structures pursuant to this section.”

Meanwhile, Section 22-6A-23 calls on Huffman to report to the legislature “the safety of pits and impoundments utilized [by the oil and gas industry] including an evaluation of whether testing and special regulatory provision is needed for radioactivity or other toxins held in the pits and impoundments.”

Both sections also give Huffman authority to propose for promulgation a set of legislative rules, should he deem the restrictions outlined in the original law are inadequate.

“One of the challenges we had for the pit and impoundment study is that there are only three pits that have been permitted under the act,” Cosco said. “In order to collect the data, we needed to hit the timing just right. The [drilling] companies had to be in the right phase of their process in order for us to get the data that needed to be collected.”

Cosco said the pit and impoundment study also required the DEP to collect data from nearby sites. Inspectors had to get permission to enter private land and obtain samples, which slowed the process.

The third study, under Section 22-6A-22, calls for the DEP to study air pollution at well sites and release a report by July 1. The report is 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.” Huffman also has the power to propose rules governing air pollution.

“We’re awaiting some more information from WVU on that as well,” Cosco said. “That’s more of the finalized data that we’re waiting for.”

West Virginia officials hope the Natural Gas Horizontal Wells Control Act generates $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.