WV DEP - An Acronym for "Dept. of Environmental Protection" or "Driller's Enhanced Protection" - You Decide
There seems to be a growing concern about alleged abuses and "liberties" that the drilling industry is taking in our counties as they converge en masse from out of state to operate here in our peaceful rural counties of WV. We are no longer dealing with the small locally-owned O&G companies that were operating in Doddridge and surrounding counties as long as we can remember. The companies whose owners and employees lived here. Their kids went to 4-H with our kids. They attended our churches, were our neighbors, were part of our community. They hired our LOCAL citizens to work for them.
But they couldn't compete with this huge multi-billion dollar companies such as Chesapeake, Antero, EQT and Consul that wanted to drill here. And most of these local drilling companies are now sub contractors for them and/or have sold out or been "absorbed" by them. Can't blame them for wanting to financially survive in some manner, given the new unconventional drilling that is now here.
So we are playing with the "big boys" of the Oil and Gas Industry now who have moved into the state and who are now actively operating here to drill their Marcellus wells. The wells that take out 5-8 acres of the surface owners land. The companies that drill down to hit the rich natural gas deposits in the Marcellus shale an average of 7,000 feet down vertically before moving the drill bit horizontally and going out another several thousand feet in various directions. The companies that use a chemical cocktail of fracking fluids (far different from the conventional well's fracking fluids) and they are exempted from disclosing the list of chemicals they use. They are exempt from the federal clean water act that regulates every other industry in the nation. Thank you Dick Chaney for creating what is often referred to as "The Haliburton Loophole." The Clean Water Act of 2005 gave the Oil and Gas industry a "free pass" exemption from being under federal regulations. Chaney was on Bush's Energy Task Force at the time to influence the exemption.
As result, the industry does not have to tell us what toxic chemicals and carcinogens they are injecting into your ground to come back up as flowback, brine, and/or sit in huge impound pits on your field. Hopefully the plastic liners that they use won't tear or leak! A fairly unregulated industry it seems.
No other industry in the world can do what they do and not have to report what they are using to do it. Even an elementary school art teacher is required to fill out an annual form with the EPA to disclose what chemicals are used in the finger paints and paint thinners in their classroom.
Before, at least with the smaller locally owned drilling companies, we had people operating in the community who lived here, knew us personally, and probably would not of good conscious want to poison us.
So what oversight and regulatory measures are in place to protect us at a state level? Well, we have the WV DEP to provide oversight of the drillers. And the WV Legislature to enact regulartory protections that will ensure the health and safety of WV people and protect the environment. What grade are they given on their "report card?" You decide.
One concern is that the WV DEP has only 16 state inspectors to provide monitoring and oversight of 59,000 existing gas wells AND provide oversight of the current Marcellus drilling frenzy. Of course we know that they are working diligently to add additional inspectors and the recent legislation that passed by the state increased the permit filing fees for drilling applications in order to help them fund the hiring of additional inspectors among other things. But this isn't a new challenge, and why is it still taking so long to happen? This isn't the first time that a gross shortage of inspectors was noted.
There is an organization known as STRONGER, Inc. It is an acronym for State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations. Their website is www.strongerinc.org It is a public, private, and government collaboration whose purpose is to assist states in documenting the environmental regulations associated with oil and gas drilling. They do a review of a state's current policies and make recommendations and identify opportunities for improvement. Of course a state needs to be receptive and participate in this evaluation process.
On the STRONGER, Inc. website, they publish the latest reviews done of participant states. The purpose of the state review process is to improve state oil and gas regulatory review programs. At the following link, you can find the document for the most recent review done in cooperation with the state of WV.
It is dated January, 2003 and is the most recent review. Other active drilling states, TX, PA, OH, OK, NC among others have reviews as recent as several months ago, 2011, and 2010. Perhaps WV is busy and not able to particpate right now?
Directly taken from STRONGER's 2003 WV review and found on page 4 of the above referenced document is the following language:
There are 43,000 producing oil or gas wells in West Virginia. Each year 900 to 1,400 new well permits are issued. Total annual permits issued, including work-overs and other activities, ranges from 1,500 to 2,200. ....
The 1993 Review found an inadequate number of inspectors. The number then was 15. Currently there are 14 inspectors. While the number of inspectors declined since 1993, OOG’s duties have increased.
Well nine years later in 2012 we now have 59,000 existing oil and gas wells in the state that need to be monitored as well as still having only 16 inspectors statewide to do it! In addition their duties include oversight of the hundreds and hundreds of proposed Marcellus wells to be drilled (at least 33 of them for this county are now pending permit at WV DEP according to a staff member.) And, about 300 more are proposed to come to this region.
So in 9 years since the report, has anything changed? A quote from page 10 of the document:
In creating the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the state
legislature found that restoring and protecting the environment is
fundamental to the health and welfare of individual citizens and our
government has a duty to provide and maintain a healthful environment
for our citizens.
Is that happening? You decide.
Looking at the current Oil and Gas legislation that was recently passed (the Horizontal Well Act that the governor signed into law Dec. 2011) it is easy to see quite a few modifications to it were done to alter the original recommendations that were made by the special advisory committe. The committee had traveled around the state hearing from the industry and landowners alike before writing the bill. The Governor took out his pen and removed many of the protections for benefit of landowners that had been included in the bill. And after he did so, he was surrounded at the podium by many members of the industry whom he thanked for their interest in getting the bill passed.
See video link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wb4AEO1O2cg Recognize any of those folks from lobby groups?
Interesting that on page 8 of that 2003 review by STRONGER, Inc. is the following observation:
Although beyond the scope of the IOGCC Guidelines, the review team
recommends that the Oil & Gas Inspectors’ Examining Board be abolished or,failing that, be restructured to greatly reduce representation of the regulated industry in its membership. The team also recommends the Oil & Gas Inspectors’Examining Board, in any event, not have inspector discipline responsibilities.
Perhaps a citizens review committee of its own needs to be initiatiated, so as to determine the performance of our WV DEP that is supposed to protect the people and environment. Is it a policy that an inspector's job performace partially evaluated by the number of complaints received by the industry or does it give equal weight to the number of complaints by individual citizens that come in when they feel that an inspector or staff person at the WV DEP has been unresponsive to their concerns and complaints? You decide.
In the meantime, if you have concerns about what these huge conglomerates that are now our "neighbors" in the community (replacing our local boys and their companies) and you don't get satisfaction from working with the WV DEP, be sure to start a paper trail of your efforts. Keep records of all your phone calls to them, responses, save the e-mail exchanges between you and staff you are interacting with. Use certified letters if necessary to document the complaint or correspondence, cc'd to outside agencies after you begin to sense your concern is not adequately or expediciously addressed to your satisfaction.
Many people have indicated that the drilling companies do not return phone calls from citizens, nor agree to meet with them to answer questions. There have been reports of water withdrawals up at McElroy creek that are in clear violation of the water withdrawal guidelines. Pictures have been taken. These water withdrawal guidelines are based on stream levels of the gages above the Antero staging area where they are sucking out of McElroy Creek.
What will the WV DEP do to help us police this and to " maintain a healthful environment for our citizens?" If the creeks are drained too low, the mussels living in them get stranded and die. These little guys are the one who ingest many times their weight in toxins in the water. Nature's filters. Even someone who is not an extreme environmentalist can recognize the importance of that!
When these out-of-state companies finish sucking the gas out from below us and move on to the next state, we'll be left here to figure out what has happened to us so quickly and to our environment. Research on the internet what has happened to Washington County, PA and Wetzel County, WV ...our neighbors. We're next as we are only at the front end of the drilling.
And when these same huge O&G companies are done and gone from here, we won't have the locally owned O&G companies to complain about what is left behind. Because they didn't do it. They live here like we do.