Fayette County Commission Amends Code to Require Local Approval for UIC Wells

Operators of future underground injection wells in Fayette County, West Virginia will be required to obtain a permit from the county approving the placement of the well. The County Commission amended the development code to require permits for underground injection control (UIC) wells. 

A public hearing will be required before the county board of zoning on permit applications for proposed underground injection control wells located in districts zoned for heavy industrial use. Three public hearings will be required before the county board of zoning, the planning commission and the County Commission for underground injection control wells proposed to be located in areas not zoned for heavy industrial use.

Local concern centered initially around two underground injection wells already located in Fayette County which are being used to dispose of oil and gas exploration wastewater. Environmental groups claim the wells threaten local drinking water sources and the environment though the use of UIC wells has been a common practice for the disposal of oil and gas exploration wastewater for generations and has been promoted by state officials in West Virginia and other states as a preferred method of addressing oil and gas exploration wastewater.

Passage of these new rules and permit requirements brings the issue of local regulation of the oil and gas industry back into the spotlight following past attempts and challenges to local ordinances attempting to ban the use of hydraulic fracturing in city limits. Such an ordinance was challenged and struck down as exceeding the authority of the city of Morgantown only a few years ago.

Whether the infusion of local approvals to obtain permits for UIC wells and potentially holding ponds which are either already regulated by the state through USEPA’s delegation of the UIC program under the Safe Drinking Water Act to the state or directly through state law by WVDEP will result in new challenges to these local regulations is not known though it is clear that this type of ordinance would be susceptible to similar, but not necessarily identical, preemption arguments the Morgantown hydraulic fracturing ordinance. At the very least, these local obligations add to ever growing layers of regulation confronting the industry.

Armando Benincasa concentrates his practice in the areas of energy law, environmental law, environmental litigation, administrative law, government affairs and lobbying. His practice consists of cases involving permitting and regulatory requirements for natural resources, including coal and oil and gas, solid waste, water resources, underground storage tanks, voluntary remediation, and the drafting of rules and statutes related to the environment.
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