Once drilled, operators must sheath the well's walls in cement for at least its first 300 feet. This casing must extend at least 50 feet below any underground water sources, which typically sit much closer to the surface than the Marcellus field. The casing must be strong enough to withstand the pressure from hydraulic fracturing, and at least 1,200 pounds per square inch of pressure.
Shoddy casings have been blamed for the tainting of water supplies in neighboring Pennsylvania by methane leaking from Marcellus wells.
Well sites that disturb three or more acres require safety plans. These must detail the chemicals and other materials at the site, identify all schools and public facilities within one mile, and provide contact information for those locations as well as for the operator, local inspectors, DEP and area first responders. They must also explain how a well site and surrounding area would be evacuated during an emergency.
Operators seeking to drill within a municipal boundary must give 30-day notice to the public through a newspaper legal ad before they can receive the needed permit. Four West Virginia communities had enacted Marcellus bans. A lawsuit has blocked one of those, while a second has been rescinded and a third is facing repeal as well.
The various stakeholders in this issue appear to agree that the DEP rule cannot go as far as legislation. Lawmakers must update legal definitions of drilling, for instance, and increase permit fees or otherwise create revenues for the additional gas field inspectors needed.
But speakers at Monday's Charleston and Morgantown events argued that Tomblin's order could have gone farther but didn't. Each drew about a dozen people. Held at the state Capitol, those at the Charleston event included members of a Jackson County family suing over the alleged contamination of their well water by gas wells. Speakers there cited other families -- a couple in Taylor County, for instance, and a sheep farming family in Wetzel County -- who allege drilling has ruined their water or land.
Those at the Morgantown event, held at a riverfront park, included Dr. Larry Schwab of the Mon Valley Clean Air Coalition. He said the International Journal of Human and Ecological Risk Assessment will soon publish a peer-reviewed study that he says has identified more than 600 chemicals associated with Marcellus drilling operations. A fourth of those have known adverse health effects, Schwab said.
"We're dealing in a giant human biological experiment with this exercise,'' Schwab said.