Posted Monday, August 22, 2011 ; 05:49 PM
Updated Monday, August 22, 2011; 06:33 PM
Updated Monday, August 22, 2011; 06:33 PM
The West Virginia Sierra Club and other citizens’ groups held simultaneous media events in Charleston and Morgantown calling for a moratorium on new permits until legislation can be passed.
By PAM KASEY and WHITNEY BURDETTE
CHARLESTON and MORGANTOWN — As the state Department of Environmental Protection issued emergency rules for regulation horizontal natural gas wells Aug. 22, citizens’ groups called for a moratorium on new gas well drilling permits until comprehensive legislation can be put in place.
“The governor’s order for emergency rules is far from adequate,” said Jim Sconyers of the West Virginia Sierra Club at an Aug. 22 press event in Morgantown. “The protections West Virginians need can only come through law.”
Acting gov. Earl Ray Tomblin issued an order on July 12 directing the DEP to issue emergency regulations for drilling in the Marcellus shale.
Tomblin’s order coincided with the formation of a select legislative committee convened to draft legislation that many hoped — in vain, it is turning out — would be passed in special session this summer or fall.
The emergency rule adds new permit application requirements for operators drilling horizontal gas wells, as well as new operational rules to protect the state’s water quality and quantity.
The rule requires operators to create erosion and sediment control plans, site construction plans certified by engineers and site safety plans for sites larger than three acres. It mandates that operators provide public notice for wells within municipal boundaries.
Even as the DEP was issuing its media release, the Sierra Club and other citizens’ groups held simultaneous media events in Charleston and Morgantown calling for a moratorium on new permits until legislation can be passed.
“State leaders have a constitutional obligation to protect the citizens,” said Chuck Wirestock of the Sierra Club, speaking at the Charleston event.
All speakers at the Charleston event agreed that while the emergency regulations help, they don’t go far enough. The West Virginia Surface Owners’ Rights Organization has said it would like to see higher permit fees, a larger buffer zone between well sites and things such as drinking wells and homes, full disclosure of all chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing and more DEP inspectors, among other things.
Barry Pallay of the West Virginia / Pennsylvania Monongahela Area Watersheds Compact listed shortcomings in Tomblin’s executive order for the emergency rule.
“Nothing in the executive order addresses protection from air pollution, noise, truck traffic destroying roads, radiation, or the cumulative impact of multiple wells within a community,” reads a document the groups handed out at the Morgantown event.
Opportunity for public comment on gas well permit applications is needed and unaddressed, as well as protections for surface owners.
Other provisions the groups feel are needed include protection for karst areas and public lands, a total dissolved solids water quality standard, expanded water well testing requirements and tighter bonding requirements.
Speaking on behalf of West Virginians for a Moratorium on Marcellus, Kathleen Cash appealed to people across the state for three actions: to ban Marcellus drilling in towns across the state, to ask Tomblin and Sen. Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, to replace some members of the select legislative committee, and to consider electing a third party candidate to governor in November.
Tammy and Dennis Hagy spoke at the Charleston event about losing their Jackson County home to Marcellus shale well drilling. They said their water and air inside their home became so contaminated, they had to move.
Tammy Hagy said she noticed brown and black particles in the water, but wasn’t worried until her family came down with various illnesses.
“I didn’t relate the drilling with our water,” she said. “No red flag went up.”
Her adult sons often took well water home with them because they didn’t like the city water. However, her son in Ohio had to quit drinking the water because he developed a severe case of acid reflux, something his mother said was never an issue.
“We told the land man we were all getting sick,” Dennis Hagy said. “No comment.”
The Hagys spoke very passionately about their previous home in the community of Romance. But because of toxic gases inside their home and water that continually made them ill, they now live in Wirt County.
“It ruined our life forever,” Dennis Hagy said of the drilling. “It was our home. Now we can’t live in our home. If we hadn’t have moved, we’d be dead.”
Manuel O’Jeda of Chapmanville also spoke out against Marcellus shale well drilling. He alleged one company that drilled on his property has not maintained the well like it should have, causing all sorts of problems, including a flood that wiped out O’Jeda’s driveway. O’Jeda attributes that to a clogged culvert he said he notified the company of 13 months before the flood.
“We don’t need regulations to protect us just while the drilling is going on,” he said. “We need regulations to protect us after the wells are drilled.”
The DEP’s emergency rules will go into effect after approval by the Secretary of State and will remain in effect for 15 months; meanwhile, it is increasingly unlikely that the select committee will be ready to pass legislation before the 2012 regular session.
Until those regulations are passed, O’Jeda warns other surface owners of what can happen if they aren’t careful in dealing with gas companies.
“You better think twice before dealing with these gas companies because they’re nothing but a headache,” he said.