West Virginia issues emergency horizontal drilling rule

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has issued an emergency rule to increase regulatory oversight of unconventional natural gas drilling.

Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin wrote an executive order July 12 telling DEP to create regulations until legislators agree on permanent unconventional drilling regulations. Existing rules only cover conventional drilling.

The emergency rule, expected to be effective for 15 months after being signed by the West Virginia secretary of state, mandates operators submit a water management plan if using more than 210,000 gal of water during a 1-month period.

The rule also adds new permit application requirements for operators drilling horizontal gas wells.

The emergency rule is intended to help DEP better regulate the state’s growing gas industry, which uses horizontal drilling techniques to access unconventional gas, such as the Marcellus shale play.

Rule outlines specifics

The rule adds specific language to the state Office of Oil and Gas regulatory program requiring operators to include erosion and sediment control plans and site construction plan, certified by a registered professional engineer, and a well safety plan for permit applications involving well sites that disturb at least 3 acres of surface.

In addition, a required water management plan is to include information such as type of water source: surface or ground water; the counties from which water withdrawals will be taken; latitude and longitude of each anticipated withdrawal; anticipated volume of each withdrawal and anticipated months withdrawals will be made; planned management and disposition of wastewater from fracturing and production activities; a listing of anticipated additives to be used for fracturing; and, upon well completion, the listing of actual additives used.

Permit applicants planning to drill within the boundaries of any municipality also are required to place a legal newspaper advertisement in the area where the well is proposed. No well work permit will be issued until 30 days notice has been provided to the public.

In addition to permit application requirements, the rule adds operational language that instructs companies to protect the quality and quantity of surface and ground water systems, both during and after drilling operations and during reclamation.

It also requires operators to keep records on the quantity of flowback water from hydraulic fracturing and the method of management or disposal of the flowback; stipulates that all drill cuttings and drilling mud be disposed of in an approved solid waste facility; and adds casing and cementing standards to prevent the migration of gas and other fluids into fresh ground water and coal seams.

Contact Paula Dittrick at paulad@ogjonline.com.

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