By Jeff Jenkins
Two years have made a difference for the state Department of Environmental Protection in its oversight of the Marcellus Shale drilling industry in West Virginia. The top 5 counties for Marcellus Shale drilling since 2011 are Doddridge, Wetzel, Harrison, Marshall and Ritchie.
Horizontal drilling for natural gas accelerated in the Mountain State in 2010. In March 2011, state lawmakers failed to pass a proposed bill regulating the industry. A special legislative committee working with Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin got a bill through later that year.
DEP spokesman Tom Aluise said that the nearly two-year-old law is finally starting to reap dividends. DEP’s Office of Oil and Gas has nearly doubled its staff in two years going from just 25 workers to 46. Thirty workers are now in the inspection and enforcement department with 27 of those out in the field.
“That helps us be more responsive to the public. Be more responsive to citizens’ complaints and be responsive to the industry as well as our efficiency at reviewing applications is improving,” Aluise said.
The additional field staffing has enabled the DEP to give its inspectors a smaller geographical area to cover. The money from the additional staffing comes from that state law that significantly increased permit fees.
A change that’s expected to have a significant impact on the Marcellus Shale industry in West Virginia will come on line in the next few months. Aluise said an e-filing system for drilling permit applications will be a welcomed improvement.
Currently drilling permit applications are more than 1,000 pages long and if a company makes a mistake on that application the DEP has to return the paperwork for corrections. Aluise said the new e-filing system will not allow an application to be filed unless all of the information is included.
“We will be getting applications that are more complete. It’s going to create situations where we are able to more thoroughly and more quickly review these,” Aluise said.
DEP records show there are currently more than 1,000 horizontal wells in West Virginia. The agency has received more than 500 permit applications this year. Companies that are granted permits have two years to actually put a drilling site in place.