Take Action: More Marcellus regulation needed

With the warm glow of the holidays over, we face the chilling specter of increased numbers of Marcellus drilling industrial sites scarring the hills of West Virginia. 

In less than two weeks, on January 11th, the two-month Regular Session of the Legislature begins, preceded by the January 8-10 Interim Session.

Many legislators have said that the Marcellus bill that was passed in December was only a starting point.  Although we can thank our legislators for providing a foundation, it’s not too soon to get started informing all our legislators that much is still crucially needed to protect West Virginians from the dangers of Marcellus shale drilling.  No legislator should feel that Governor Tomblin's substitute for the Select Committee bill was "good enough".  Quite the opposite.

Industry and their minions say it provides “certainty”.  Here are just some of the citizen uncertainties that still exist and need to be addressed in quick fashion.

Talk about “glow”, a huge issue completely overlooked in the new bill is a requirement for testing for radioactive contaminants (NORM’s, naturally occurring radioactive materials) that are brought to the surface as an unintended result of the drilling. Legislation is needed to require that drillers actually monitor for radioactivity and that any materials exceeding radiation health standards must be disposed of using approved practices for radioactive waste.

There are huge problems with toxic emissions from diesel compressors, flaring and heavy truck traffic that need air emissions regulation on a cumulative basis.  All of those industrial activities going on at once can profoundly affect people living around the sites.  Although the new law requires DEP to “do a study” on air emission’s impacts on health, DEP's Division of Air Quality immediately needs to regulate air emissions by requiring permits, monitoring, and Best Available Control Technology.  There has to be explicit language that the cumulative, aggregated impacts of multiple facilities are regulated as one permit

DEP should also be able to hire inspectors without the prerequisite that they have experience in the gas industry (can you say “foxes guarding the hen house?”)  That is a serious flaw in the bill, and removing it would dramatically expand the pool of qualified applicants, reduce the competition with industry for their own qualified people, and would allow DEP to get boots on the ground a lot faster. 

Long before most West Virginians had ever heard the words “Marcellus Shale,” outside auditors were warning that DEP was greatly underfunded and severely understaffed. They’ve had nearly 20 years since that warning to remedy understaffing and so far have done next to nothing

In many ways, surface owners really got the shaft since Tomblin’s bill weakened the already weak protections in existing law.  Since it is still possible for a family to have their lives ruined by 24 hour noise, toxic emissions, lights and heavy truck traffic, better protections must be enacted as soon as possible.  When estates were split between surface owners and mineral rights owners one hundred years ago, no one ever envisioned five acre industrial sites running day and night. The drillers may have the right to extract gas, but we have the right to healthy homes and safe water.

Getting together with some friends and taking your legislator out to brunch at a local eatery provides a comfy non-threatening venue for discussing Marcellus issues. This is easy to do right in your hometown on any Saturday even after the Session starts. 

In the run-up to this Regular Session, your letter-to-the-editor in your local daily and weekly paper is needed and will be good pre-game awareness-raiser for your neighbors and your lawmakers.  Please include in your letter any of the talking points above and keep your message simple and positive.  We encourage you to let them know we are still in dire need of important law and want it done now

In the words of Frederick Douglass “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”  As always, please contact me for assistance or with questions on any of this.   Thanks for all you do.


Chuck Wyrostok
Sierra Club Outreach Organizer

Toll free 877 252 0257


E: outreach@marcellus-wv.com
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