Oil and gas lobbyists and environmental groups are both offering cautious reactions to a Department of Environmental Protection proposal for a wholesale rewrite of the way West Virginia regulates drilling operations across the state.
Citizen groups are hoping to persuade lawmakers to strengthen the legislation, while industry officials are still suffering "sticker shock" from a permit fee increase intended to help pay for improved regulation of their operations.
"It's a start," said Don Garvin, lead lobbyist for the West Virginia Environmental Council. "It's significantly better than the current program."
DEP officials, after months of talks with groups on both sides, have put together a 141-page bill in response to growing citizen concerns about the boom in horizontal drilling, especially for gas reserves in the Marcellus Shale formation.
Among other things, the bill aims to get a handle on how much water drillers use and how they dispose of their polluted wastewater, and on the increased surface footprint required for the larger drilling sites and wells.
Companies would have to submit water management plans that list the chemicals used in drilling and describe how they would dispose of drilling wastewater. It includes a new set of performance standards, and would require any well sites greater than five acres in size to submit formal designs put together by a professional engineer.
DEP Secretary Randy Huffman said his agency got the approval of Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to seek a sponsor for the bill, but that the legislation is not among Tomblin's own legislative priorities.
The bill rewrites entire sections of oil and gas law and creates several major new regulatory requirements. A $10,000 permit fee on all horizontal wells would help DEP double the size of its 32-person Office of Oil and Gas.
"What we have here is not a new twist on the same industry," Huffman said last week. "In my view as a regulator, we have a whole new industry and we don't have a regulatory program to deal with that industry."