NRDC Claims WVDEP's Underground Injection Program for the Oil and Gas Industry is Deficient
May 8, 2019
The Natural Resource Defenses Council (“NRDC”), assisted by the West Virginia Surface Owners’ Rights Organization, has issued a report claiming that West Virginia’s groundwater is not adequately protected from underground injection. https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/west-virginia-groundwater-underground-injection-report.pdf. The Underground Injection Control (“UIC”) program originated from the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act. The WVDEP has had authority to implement the program since 1983.
Though admittedly consistent with the Federal Act, the report claims that WV adopted a less restrictive program for the oil and gas industry than for other industries. The authors reviewed records for 19 “Class IID” wells out of 67 listed in WVDEP’s database and concede that “these wells are not necessarily representative of all UIC wells in West Virginia.” The Report lists three primary concerns with the UIC program in WV: 1) that about 25 percent of the wells reviewed filed injection reports noting that their injection was occurring under an expired permit; 2) that mechanical integrity tests were often not conducted as frequently as required; and 3) more than 50 percent of the wells appear to have been abandoned without being plugged. The Report does not, however, claim that any of these violations have resulted in contamination to any protected aquifers.
The Report also recommends that WVDEP inspect all Class IID wells at least annually and ensure that no injection occurs under expired permits; create a 24-hour toll-free hotline for lodging complaints; require proof of a bond adequate to plug the well; take vigorous enforcement actions and reject applications from repeat offenders; and provide public access to all records and data.