Another Wrinkle in Marcellus Regulation

Morgantown Dominion Post
15 April 2011
Letter to Editor

Everybody knows the state of West Virginia has too few inspectors for its 59,000 active (natural gas) wells and thousands of new deep, hydraulic fractured wells expected to come online in the next few years. Each new Marcellus well should be inspected at five different steps while getting it ready to produce.

Not everyone knows about the second problem with enforcement, however. The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) hires young men in their twenties, typically, for [salaries] in the low thirties. Real enforcement involves familiarity with the regulations and a combination of assertiveness and tact. The people they deal with have high stakes in circumventing the rules, in many cases. At a minimum, they just want to avoid the messy paperwork.

It takes a young man just out of college quite a while to “get the swing of it.” In most cases four to six years. By the time they develop real effect, they are simply hired away by the drilling companies for twice the salary they got as DEP inspectors. You can reasonably expect a man to show some principle, but if he wants to have a family, it takes a lot of principle to reject a doubling of such a low salary.

When the young inspector changes employers, the result is the drilling industry not only forces the DEP into hiring and training a new, less effective recruit, they have an employee fully trained in the rules they might want to circumvent.

What this implies is that salaries paid to DEP employees should match or be slightly better than what the industry offers. Otherwise, enforcement is going to suffer, and the public and the future are not going to be protected. Traffic law enforcement is paid for by the owners of the cars and trucks that make up the traffic. Shouldn’t this also be true of other industries?
S. Thomas Bond
Jane Lew