PRESS RELEASE February 5, 2021
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — On February 4, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC) and West Virginia Rivers Coalition held a virtual press conference with remarks from advocates and state lawmakers about solutions to recurring budget shortfalls at the WV Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) Office of Oil and Gas.
Speakers at the press conference included Attorney David McMahon, OVEC Project Coordinator Dustin White, Del. Evan Hansen (D – Monongalia), and State Senator William Ihlenfeld (D – Ohio).
According to David McMahon, co-founder of WV Surface Owners’ Rights Organization (WVSORO), more than a hundred years of extractive industry have resulted in problems for West Virginia landowners that require appropriate monitoring and oversight not just during the drilling of oil and gas wells, but during the decades of the producing life of those wells.
However, due to insufficient funding, the WVDEP Office of Oil and Gas recently reduced its staff from 40 to 25 positions. As a result, there is currently only one inspector per every 5000 gas wells, making oversight of over 55,000 active and 12,000 inactive oil and gas wells in the state practically impossible.
The Office of Oil and Gas is currently funded solely through one-time fees on new permit applications, but this funding structure is inconsistent with other WVDEP Offices and not sufficient for sustaining the office’s responsibility for monitoring and regulating all actions related to the exploration, drilling, storage and production of oil and natural gas.
“It needs constant funding,” McMahon said. “Not just when new wells are drilled.”
Dustin White, a project coordinator with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, said the organization and its members are “deeply concerned” about the recurring budget shortfalls and its impacts.
According to Del. Hansen, this is an issue related to public health and the environment that’s important across much of West Virginia.
“On top of that, we need to get this right because the industry deserves to have regulatory certainty,” Hansen said. “I think most people in industry realize that it’s important to have proper regulation and the regulation needs to be fairly enforced across all the businesses that participate in that industry. We need to have enough inspectors so that inspections can be done and everybody can be held to the same standard.”
Though there are several potential options being put forward at the legislature this session to address funding for the Office of Oil and Gas, the approach that Hansen has committed to co-sponsoring is legislation enacting a $100 fee per well. According to his statement at the press conference on Thursday, this option would generate enough funding to increase staffing at the Office of Oil and Gas and could potentially address abandoned oil and gas wells scattered across West Virginia as well.
State Senator William Ihlenfeld, D-Ohio, a member of the Senate Energy Committee echoed concerns raised by environmentalists about the health and safety of communities in West Virginia.
“I don’t think the public realizes the dangers that are posed by this situation,” he said. “And if we don’t have enough inspectors out in the field to keep an eye on these, and to identify dangerous situations, then we’re all at risk.”
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