West Virginia energy producers are under greater restrictions after the signing of a law imposing new regulations on natural gas production through hydraulic fracturing techniques. The new law, the Horizontal Well Act, imposes $5,000 to $10,000 fees on new wells and subjects applications for new wells to strict public notice requirements, bureaucratic approval processes, and newly imposed setback requirements.
The West Virginia legislature approved the bill on Dec. 14 at the conclusion of a four-day special session. The House passed the bill by a vote of 92-5. The Senate then passed it unanimously. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat, signed it into law on Dec. 22.
The new law “provides reasonable regulations to protect the environment and opens the door to new job opportunities for the citizens of our state,” Tomblin said in a press statement accompanying his signing of the Act.
The Act applies to any horizontal well other than coalbed methane that disturbs three acres or more of surface land or exceeds use of 10,000 gallons of water in any 30-day period. Among its provisions, the Act requires energy producers to:
• publish a legal advertisement prior to applying for a permit,
• develop a water management plan,
• declare the components of the hydraulic fracturing fluids,
• reclaim the well site after operations are complete,
• pay $10,000 for an initial well and $5,000 for each additional well on the same site, and
• locate wells at least 100 feet from any lake or perennial stream, 250 feet from an existing water well, 650 feet from an occupied dwelling, and 1,000 feet from any public water supply intake.
Record of Environmental Safety
Hydraulic fracking has proven to be environmentally safe even without the new restrictions, says Robin Millican, a public policy associate at the Institute for Energy Research.
“Hydraulic fracturing has been around since the 1940s, it has been used in more than 1 million wells, and according to the states that have oil and gas operations, there has yet to be a confirmed incident of drinking water contamination resulting from its use,” said Millican.
Millican noted money from the $10,000 and $5,000 fees will be given to the state Department of Environmental Protection to close a funding deficit.
“I question the need for requiring industry to provide public notice on every well, as well as the $10,000 fee for the first well drilled on a pad and $5,000 fee for each additional well. Those fees look a lot like a tax,” she said.
Safeguarding Energy Production
Millican nevertheless applauded West Virginia’s decision to uphold the right of energy companies to produce natural gas through hydraulic fracturing, as opposed to some states that forbid the process and are missing out on the economic benefits and revenue opportunities.
“At least West Virginia is allowing drilling and job creation. New York state has a moratorium on high-volume hydraulic fracturing. The New York ban has greatly limited energy production in New York. West Virginia’s new regulations are at least reasonable enough to allow fracking to continue, undoubtedly because it’s safe and a good thing for the state’s economy,” Millican explained.
Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.