DEP: No New Rules Needed Now for Horizontal Drilling Air Quality
The State Journal
1 July 2013
By Pam Kasey
The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has
concluded that no new rules are needed at this time regarding the
quality of air near horizontal drilling wellpads.
The DEP's Office of Oil and Gas conveyed its horizontal drilling
air quality study on June 28 to Senate President Jeffrey Kessler,
D-Marshall, and Speaker of the House Tim Miley, D-Harrison. It is
posted on the Legislature's website.
It was the last of three studies mandated in the December 2011
Natural Gas Horizontal Well Control Act.
The first, a study on the safety of pits and impoundments
conducted by West Virginia University and filed with the
Legislature on March 7, observed among 20 sites deficiencies in
the construction of some pits and impoundments, and recommended
that inspectors need better training and should visit sites more
The second, a study on noise, light, dust and volatile organic
compounds, went to the Legislature on May 28. This was aimed at
helping the OOG and the Legislature determine whether restricting
centers of wellpads to no closer than 625 feet from occupied
dwellings is sufficient for health and nuisance concerns. The OOG
concluded from data collected for that study under the supervision
of WVU School of Public Health Professor Michael McCawley that
"there are no indications of a public health emergency or threat,"
but recommended that the Legislature consider using not the center
of a wellpad but, more protectively, the edge of wellpad
disturbance as the reference point.
The third and last report, on air quality, incorporates aspects of
the second study — measurements of dust and of volatile organic
compounds in the vicinity of wellpads — and references other
studies as well.
Surprisingly, the OOG's report does not mention the strongest air
quality finding of the McCawley study: the presence of benzene at
the 625-foot line at concentrations above what the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention call "the minimum risk level for no
health effects." Benzene is a volatile organic compound that
causes irritation of the skin, eyes and upper respiratory tract
and, with longer exposure, blood disorders, reproductive and
developmental disorders, and cancer, according to the
Environmental Protection Agency.
McCawley's study further noted, "A health effects–based setback
distance proposal might require a study with a lengthy (three
years or more) sampling effort, greater detail in the chemical
analysis, a larger number of sites and some effort to assure that
the sites represent the range of exposures that a typical
population could experience."
That observation from the air quality study the Legislature
mandated is not mentioned in DEP's June 28 air quality report to
The McCawley study also suggested that some dust and volatile
organic compounds may come not directly from wellpads, but from
the associated truck activity. OOG indicated in its second report
that West Virginia's Diesel-Powered Motor Vehicle Idling Act
mandates no more than 15 minutes of engine idling per one-hour
period, and that only law enforcement, not the DEP, can enforce
that. The current report mentioned that act and various
cooperative efforts among the state Division of Highways and local
communities to moderate truck activity.
The June 28 report also referenced a cursory EPA air quality study
conducted at a school located about a mile from a wellpad just
outside Morgantown city limits that found no air quality problems.
And it referenced a number of other studies that currently are
The OOG's overall conclusion is that it already recommended with
the last study that the wellpad setback distance requirement be
increased — a recommendation that also would help with any air
quality problems at occupied dwellings — although it did not pick
up on McCawley's suggestion that a health-based setback proposal
would require more intensive data collection. Improved training of
agency officials and the regulated community already has been put
in place, the OOG said in its report. And numerous air quality
studies are under way now by various state and federal entities;
additional rules can await those results.
The OOG did not suggest or commit to any follow-up with the
Legislature following the release of those results.