DEP horizontal well studies for Legislature a few weeks late - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

DEP horizontal well studies for Legislature a few weeks late

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Two studies on oil and gas regulations due to the Legislature in the past week are going to be a few weeks late.

With the Natural Gas Horizontal Well Control Act of December 2011, the state Legislature established a framework for regulating a broad range of activities related to the production of natural gas from horizontally drilled wells.

But lawmakers wanted more information in several areas. For that, they mandated follow-up studies from the state Department of Environmental Protection.

One study, which was due on Dec. 31, explores whether the act's setback distance — the center of a wellpad may not be located within 625 feet of an occupied dwelling — is sufficient given the noise, light, dust and volatile organic compounds generated by the drilling of horizontal wells.

A second, due just one day later on Jan. 1, investigates the safety of pits and impoundments and evaluates whether special regulatory provision is needed for radioactivity or other toxins.

A finding in either case that existing regulations are inadequate would trigger the development and proposal of new rules by the DEP.

The studies are a little late, although they're almost ready, according to DEP spokesperson Kathy Cosco.

The West Virginia Water Research Institute at West Virginia University is heading up the research.

"It looks like the study on dust, VOCs, light and noise is going to be a couple weeks late — some time in January, that's the hope," Cosco said.

The DEP has communicated that to Delegate Lynwood Ireland, R-Ritchie, who requested the study, she said.

The pits and impoundments safety study is closer to submission.

"We got a final draft today," Cosco said on Jan. 3. "We have just a couple of really minor comments … but it's just about ready to submit."

The one-year timeline for these studies was tight, she said.

"There are several logistic challenges to pulling together reports like these," she said. "We only had a handful of sites that were permitted under the new law. And then among that handful of those that were permitted, even fewer were in the phases we needed. And we had to get permission to be on people's property for the setbacks study — it all takes time."

Missing the deadlines by a few weeks is not going to change the outcome, Cosco said. If DEP decides to propose any new rules, even coming to that conclusion by the deadline would have been too late for them to be proposed in the coming February-to-April regular legislative session.

More studies — on whether further regulation of air pollution from well sites is needed to protect human health and environment, on rules regarding drilling in karst terrain, and on wellbore casing and cementing standards — are due in July.