DEP's Main Advice to Lawmakers: Change Wellpad Setback Rule
The State Journal
10 July 2013
By Pam Kasey
With the three horizontal well studies mandated by the lawmakers
now in, the state Department of Environmental Protection's main
recommendation to them is to measure wellpad setbacks from their
edges, not their centers.
The studies were called for in the Legislature's December 2011
Natural Gas Horizontal Well Control Act. All of the studies were
conducted under contract by West Virginia University.
DEP's Office of Oil and Gas submitted the first of the three
studies, on the safety of pits and impoundments, in March. The
agency concluded from that study that any problems could be
addressed internally by hiring more inspectors, by standardizing
inspections and by improving training of inspectors and of the
The second study, on noise, light, dust, and volatile organic
compounds, went to the Legislature in May. The agency summarized
that additional training on remediation measures, both in-house
and for operators, was needed. It noted that the state's
anti-idling law, aimed at reducing emissions from diesel engines,
could be better enforced, and that bodies other than DEP are
charged with enforcing it.
And the summary recommended the Legislature consider changing the
reference point for wellpad setbacks. Currently, the centers of
wellpads are to be set no closer than 625 feet from occupied
dwellings; DEP suggested that, because wellpad geometries vary,
the standard could better reference not the centers but the edges
The third study, on air quality, was submitted on June 28 and
included data from the second study. DEP noted that many other
state and federal studies of air quality at oil and gas extraction
and processing facilities are under way, and concluded that no new
law is needed at this time.
What happens next?
"There's been a suggestion that we take up examining these
reports in an interim committee," said Delegate Tim Manchin,
referring to the monthly meetings lawmakers held between regular
winter sessions. Manchin, D-Marion, served as House co-chair of
the Joint Select Committee on Marcellus Shale that formulated the
Knowing how discussions went in 2011 on wellpad setbacks, Manchin
said he thought a hard-and-fast increase of the setback distance
"would be difficult."
The concern, he said, was "sterilizing" minerals — making them
What might be more achievable, he said, is a greater setback
distance with some flexibility where operators commit to abatement
WVU professor Michael McCawley, who oversaw the air quality study,
said a health-based proposal for wellpad setbacks would require
three years of data from wellpads in a wide variety of settings.
Although the three studies the Legislature asked for are in,
Manchin said his review of the report summaries indicated to him
that some issues didn't get addressed quite the way lawmakers
"I think there's still a little more to be done," he said.