WVDEP Issues Report On Air Quality Impacts Related To Horizontal Well Drilling

West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) Office of Oil and Gas (OOG) issued “Air Quality Impacts Occurring From Horizontal Well Drilling and Related Activities” (Air Quality Report) on June 28, 2013.  The agency was required make a finding as to the need, if any, for further regulation of air pollution occurring from horizontal well sites, including the possible health impacts, the need for air quality inspections during drilling, the need for inspections of compressors, pits and impoundments, and any other potential air quality impacts that could be generated from horizontal drilling activity that could harm human health or the environment.  W. Va. Code §22-6A-22.  The agency concluded “[b]ased on a review of completed air studies to date, including the results from the well pad development monitoring conducted in West Virginia’s Brooke, Marion, and Wetzel Counties, no additional legislative rules establishing special requirements need to be promulgated at this time.”  Air Quality Report, p. 9 (emphasis added). 

The report indicates that horizontal drilling in West Virginia is successfully regulated by a suite of state and federal laws and regulations.  The Natural Gas Horizontal Well Control Act (Act) provides comprehensive regulatory requirements for horizontal wells.  W. Va. Code §22-6A (2012).  The Act applies “to any natural gas well, other than a coalbed methane well, drilled using a horizontal drilling method, and which disturbs three acres or more of surface, excluding pipelines, gathering lines and roads, or utilizes more than two hundred ten thousand gallons of water in any thirty day period.”  Certain provisions of W. Va. Code §22-6 governing conventional wells and existing oil and gas agency are incorporated by reference.  Horizontal well permits are required.  The Act provides for a $10,000 application fee for “initial horizontal well drilled at a [particular] location, and a permit fee of $5,000 for each additional horizontal well drilled on a single well pad.”  The application must identify the formations, in which the well will be completed, the total length of the wellbore, the proposed well stimulation techniques, a well site safety plan, a soil erosion control plan, a water management plan, a site construction plan, and more.  Previously, only one permit notice and certification was required.  The Act, however, requires separate notices for seismic work, entry on the land for plat survey, notices of intent to drill and other matters.

The Act is complemented by West Virginia’s new administrative rule, 35 C.S.R. 8, “Rules Governing Horizontal Well Development” (effective July 1, 2013).  The rule expands on the Act’s management of erosion and sediment control plans; site construction plans; water management plans; well site safety plans; casing and cementing standards; well records, including records and disclosure of chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process; water supply testing; and construction standards for large wastewater pits and freshwater impoundments.

To provide additional air quality protection, the Department of Air Quality (DAQ) requires air permits for and inspects a variety of oil and gas operations including: extraction facilities, compressor stations, dehydrators, and operations of natural gas production facilities located at well sites.  DAQ is currently developing a general permit for operations of natural gas production facilities located at well sites.  This air quality permit will include all operations involved in an oil and gas well site during the production phase of the well, including natural gas and diesel engines, fixed roof storage tanks, completion combustion devices, and ancillary equipment.

New federal regulations require oil and gas operators to minimize air emissions associated with oil and gas activities.  Beginning January 1, 2015 well completion operations at hydraulically fractured wells drilled must maximize resource recovery and minimize releases to the atmosphere during flowback and subsequent recovery.  40 C.F.R. 60, Subpart OOOO.  The Diesel-Powered Motor Vehicle Idling Act may reduce vehicle traffic and vehicle engine idling air quality issues associated with increased vehicle activity to and from the wellsite.

A recent West Virginia study, which examined ambient and indoor air quality at the school, found no indications of public health impacts related to hydraulic fracturing.  This study was conducted at Skyview Elementary School in Morgantown, West Virginia located only a mile away from the well pad before and after hydraulic fracturing.  The agency will continue to review and assess new studies and data as information becomes available.  “In the meantime, the existing regulatory framework provides a basis for implementation of requirements to minimize and mitigate human health and environmental impacts.”  Air Quality Report, p. 9.

For a copy of the Air Quality Report click here.

Laura Goldfarb helps clients resolve their environmental policy, regulation, and enforcement problems. Prior to joining Steptoe & Johnson, Ms. Goldfarb was Assistant Counsel at the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, where she represented the agency in a variety of matters relating to the state's environmental programs, and drafted regulatory and statutory environmental provisions for the State of West Virginia.
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