November 15, 2011
West Virginia DEP’s Office of Oil and Gas is underfunded and understaffed, according to reports issued in 1993 and a decade later in 2003 by the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. According to Ken Ward in the Charleston Gazette, that situation is unchanged today. Just 19 state inspectors provide oversight for thousands of natural gas wells across West Virginia; this is just four more inspectors than DEP had two decades ago. DEP inspectors are supposed to examine drilling operations at seven key points in the process, to monitor things like well-casing construction, pit waste disposal and site reclamation.
West Virginia funds the Office of Oil and Gas partly through permit fees paid by drillers. Currently, those fees are set by law at $650 for deep wells like those drilled into the Marcellus Shale. In January, DEP proposed legislation to increase permit fees for horizontal wells to $10,000 per well, which would have provided sufficient funds to double the oil and gas office’s 34-person staff, including hiring 18 new inspectors. The current bill developed by the Joint Select Committee on Marcellus Shale would set permit fees at $10,000 for the first well on any drilling pad and $5,000 for each subsequent well on that pad.