DEP Defends Late Reports

Laws were be based on agency’s studies

Morgantown Dominion Post
23 February 2013
By David Beard

CHARLESTON — The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) spent just over an hour explaining to legislators why a few gas well pad environmental reports are almost a few months late.

While the reports are just weeks away from delivery, legislators are concerned they won’t have the information in time to do anything with it this year.

The DEP presented an update on the reports to the House Judiciary Committee late last week.

As part of the 2011 Natural Gas Horizontal Well Control Act legislation, the DEP was ordered to study:
The levels of noise, dust, light and volatile organic compounds at well pads, relative to a pad’s proximity to occupied dwellings. This was due Dec. 31.
Pits and impoundments — due Jan. 1.
A third study, on air quality and the possible need for more regulations, is due July 1.

Mike Dorsey, with the DEP’s Homeland Security and Emergency Response office, said the agency contracted with WVU to do the pits and impoundments study.

Negotiations over what exactly the study would entail dragged out nearly three months, so the study didn’t get rolling until June, and lasted into August.

The engineering portion of the study is done, and DEP received about 600-700 pages from that Wednesday evening. It is awaiting results of the water study and expects to present a full report to the Legislature in about two weeks.

A lack of suitable pits posed a problem, Dorsey said. Wells regulated by the new Act are called 6A wells, and only three pits fell under 6A regulations, all at the same site. They added 12 more that are regulated under old rules.

The new regulations pose a huge change in the way DEP oversees the industry, he said. There’s been no bigger change for the DEP since the solid waste laws were passed in the late 1980s-early 1990s.

“These guys walked into a whole new world,” Dorsey said.

There was good news and bad news, he said. The good news: None of the pits posed any imminent danger of failure.

The bad news:

Either DEP employees or industry representatives need proper training to examine them under the new regulations. Some training was under way before the Act passed but more needs to be done.

They need consistency among inspectors, and have developed a standardized checklist.

On the industry side, pit construction is a problem and needs improvement. New pits had fewer problems, but still had some.

The final issue was maintenance: Standing water on top of liners and other issues — which have been addressed since then.

The DEP was supposed to study radiation in the cuttings, but was unable to get samples. They did study the water from the shale level, and got data from the vertical portions of the wells. They found radiation levels too low to be of any concern.

Going forward, he said, “We simply need to be vigilant in looking for issues as they pop up.”

Committee vice-chairman Tim Manchin, D-Marion, asked if they could expect DEP to propose new rules regarding pits and impoundments during this session.

DEP’s Oil and Gas Chief Jim Martin said they don’t know enough yet. When they do, “at that time the decision will be made.” But not during this rules cycle, which begins in April.

Renu Chakrabarty, with the DEP’s Division of Air Quality, said complete data from WVU on the light, noise and dust study is just a couple weeks away. She gave an extensive description of how it was conducted and why it took so long. In a nutshell, “We just had a lot of logistics going on out there.”