Byrne the First to Address Joint Marcellus Committee

Morgantown Dominion Post
13 July 2011
By Davis Beard

CHARLESTON — Morgantown got the first word in at the first meeting of the Legislature’s Marcellus shale select committee charged with drafting new regulation.

Former mayor Bill Byrne opened the Tuesday evening meeting, followed by two WVU natural gas engineering professors. The panel will hear testimony from other experts and stakeholders at its second meeting, set for noon today.

Byrne gave the joint House-Senate committee a brief history of the two Morgantown Industrial Park gas wells and the city’s subsequent ban on fracking within a mile of its limits.

Because gas is the cleanest-burning fossil fuel, he said, long before any talk of the industrial park wells had arisen, “it seemed like a no-brainer to fully support” properly regulated gas extraction.

But while Northeast Natural Energy had some early talks with the Morgantown Utility Board (MUB) about the proposed wells, MUB and the city were surprised to learn the permits were issued. “No one thought that this type of drilling could be allowed so close to the city without some kind of public notice.”

While Byrne said he favors state regulation to a “patchwork” of city fracking bans, City Council had to step into the void left by the Legislature’s failure to pass laws earlier this year.

Regulation is needed, he said, so that “not just the folks with the gold-rush mentality” profit from Marcellus drilling and leave a shamble behind. “Can we learn from our history and not repeat the past?”

Well-pad siting is crucial Byrne said — they shouldn’t be close to towns, subdivisions or water sources. Grilled about the city’s ban by Sen. Karen Facemyer, R-Jackson, he turned the questioning around and repeated his first point. “In the absence of adequate regulation, we thought we had to act.”

Following Byrne, professors Samuel Ameri and Khashayar Aminian touched on the history and technical highlights of horizontal drilling and fracking.

Asked by Sen. Mike Hall, R-Putnam, about spills at well sites, Ameri responded, “Accidents happen.” Engineering incompetence happens. Drilling and fracking require good design and good engineering. Wrecks occur on Interstate 79. “Would you stop issuing driver’s licenses?”

Delegate Mike Manypenny, D-Taylor, asked about naturally occurring radioactivity in drill cuttings and tailings.

There has been no record of it in any West Virginia operations, he said, but there is talk it may not be detectable until much later, when it’s buried in a landfill and oxidized — and could leach into streams and rivers.

Aminian admitted that this is an area where the technology is still too new. “At this point, we don’t have enough data to answer that question.”

Ameri wrapped up by saying he’s in favor of regulation. “I’m not in favor of regulating the gas industry out of business.” The state needs not just more inspectors, but well-trained inspectors who know what to look for, and well-paid inspectors who won’t get hired away by the industry.