That is not to say state agencies do not have an abundance of water quality rules in place. They do. But the very fact that the DEP has established a new mechanism indicates a failing in the past.
Fracturing, a technique sometimes used in oil and gas drilling, is the core concern. It can require use of vast quantities of water. Critics of the practice have said drilling companies sometimes deplete water in small streams in order to obtain enough for the process. But water coming back up out of wells is a problem, too, because of the chemicals mixed with it for the fracturing process. Some environmentalists worry that the mixture has detrimental effects on ground water.
DEP officials issued a new online form that drilling companies are required to fill out. It seeks information on the sources of water used at wells and on how water pumped back up out of the wells is handled. Drillers who use more than 750,000 gallons of water in the fracturing process must complete the form. Again, it needs to be emphasized that the new report is not the first time the DEP has sought information from drilling companies. But it represents an increase in state oversight of the oil and gas industries, and that will be welcome to many property owners.
The question now is what the DEP will do with the new information. Will it restrict depletion of small streams? Will it limit dumping of water used in the fracturing process? The agency’s announcement on the new report did not make that clear.
Obviously, however, merely learning about problems created by drilling is not enough. Environmental protection laws on the books need to be enforced and, if necessary, augmented to ensure that the new drilling boom is a boon, not a curse in disguise, for West Virginia.