CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia citizen and environmental groups on Tuesday urged Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to temporarily stop issuing new permits to drill for natural gas in the state's Marcellus Shale formation.
The state chapter of the Sierra Club, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and eight other groups said no new permits should be issued until significant improvements are made in state law and regulations that govern drilling.
"We know that the legislation adopted in December 2011 was grossly inadequate, and does not provide the basic protections needed by West Virginia citizens," the groups said in a statement. "Yet permits for new wells continue to be issued, leaving landowners and local citizens helpless to stop the dangers in their neighborhood."
Among other things, the groups said lawmakers should make Department of Environmental Protection inspections of all drilling operations and gas wells mandatory. They also said DEP should determine the number of active wells inspectors "can effectively oversee" and "limit the number of permits issued to the corresponding number of inspectors on staff."
The groups want tougher regulation of how drilling companies dispose of water they use, local community control of where drilling occurs, and a mandate that drillers replace any drinking water supplies they damage.
"Natural gas development can be done right, but today, it is being done wrong, and that needs to stop," the citizen groups said.
Officials from the governor's office did not respond to a request for comment. Tom Aluise, a DEP spokesman, said his agency "has no intention of pursuing a moratorium on drilling."