Review W.Va. Drilling Rules

It has been nearly two years since West Virginia legislators approved what many viewed as a comprehensive package of rules for the natural gas and oil drilling industry. Since then, some Mountain State residents and public officials have suggested the statutes need to be tweaked a bit.

For example, some people in this area continue to complain about damage to roads caused by heavy drilling equipment. And occasionally concerns are expressed about safety on highways traveled by oversize rigs carrying machinery to and from well pads.

Another worry, involving schools, has come to light twice during the past year.

Last week, Marshall County school officials met with representatives of a St. Marys company planning to drill a well about 3,800 feet from the new Cameron High School building. There had been some apprehension about the safety of roads near the school and over the potential for an explosion or fire at the well site.

After the meeting, Marshall County school Superintendent Michael Hince seemed less uncomfortable with the proposal to drill a well near CHS. He said Department of Environmental Protection officials do not seem concerned.

Earlier this year there was controversy over another plan to drill at a site near Wheeling Park High School. Chesapeake Energy revised its plan, agreeing to place the well at another site.

Pipeline safety has been another cause for uneasiness among some West Virginians, especially in light of accidents since the Legislature approved its package of new rules in December 2011.

Overhauling those rules in wholesale fashion would be a bad idea. Any industry needs some certainty and continuity in government regulation.

Still, legislators should – perhaps after broaching the issue with their constituents – consider whether some updating of the rules is appropriate. Additional provisions for drilling near schools might be added, for example.

Although lawmakers and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin tried hard to make the drilling rules beneficial to all concerned, no piece of legislation is perfect. Revisiting this one would be a good idea.