By WARREN SCOTT
WELLSBURG - The Brooke County Commission on Feb. 1 learned the state House of Delegates will consider a bill regulating the construction of natural gas wells using hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling.
In an e-mail to the commission, state Del. Roy Givens, D-Brooke, said the House judiciary committee is reviewing House Bill 2878, which aims to set new regulations for natural gas companies using hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling to release gas from underground, particularly the Marcellus Shale.
The Marcellus Shale is a geological formation extending from New York to Tennessee and believed to contain 200 trillion cubic feet of the gas, enough to provide Americans for many years with a natural resource that's said to be more environmentally friendly.
But some environmental experts are concerned about natural gas drillers' use of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," a method that involves blasting water, sand and chemicals, some of them toxic, into the shale to release the gas.
Opponents of the procedure say it may release uranium, which is found naturally in the ground, or methane, commonly found in coal mines.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has launched a two-year study to determine fracking's potential for water contamination.
The House Bill calls for drillers to obtain a water pollution control permit for each well site and to submit an erosion and sediment control plan for the sites.
It also prohibits gas wells from being established "in close proximity to water wells and supplies" and "restricted in close proximity to surface waters and water courses."
The bill calls for a tracking system for water and other fluids used in fracking.
Givens noted the state Division of Environmental Protection also is working on a bill that should be introduced soon.
The state Senate has introduced similar legislation in the form of Senate Bill 258. Its provisions include raising drilling fees from $600 to $15,000 per well to provide more state inspectors for drilling operations.
Its co-sponsors include local Senators Orphy Klempa, D-Wheeling, and Jack Yost, D-Wellsburg.
The state Department of Environmental Protection's Office of Oil and Gas has just 12 inspectors to monitor about 59,000 wells.
News of the pending legislation came less than a week after the commission heard from representatives of Chesapeake Energy, which has obtained permits to drill on properties in the name of John Hupp and Barry Greathouse, both northeast of West Liberty, and property in the name of Mark Owen northeast of Bethany.
It has applied for a permit to drill on property in the name of James Seabright northeast of Bethany.
The company also has approached officials with the Brooke County Board of Education about drilling near Franklin Primary School and members of the Brooke County Park and Recreation Commission about drilling at the park.
At a meeting of the county's newly formed natural gas drilling task force, Stacey Brodak, director of corporate development for Chesapeake, discussed measures used by the company to deter contamination.
They included casing the wells with several layers of steel and cement and transporting wastewater from the wells to approved landfills instead of storing it on-site.
In related business, Wellsburg resident Jeff Hensler asked the commission if there's a tax on natural gas stored at the well site after drilling and who's responsible for paying it - the natural gas company or the property owner who leased his land for drilling.
(Scott can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)