SB 508 - nuisance lawsuits
On Thursday SB 508 passed the Senate Judiciary Committee. (I previously wrote about this bill here.) According to the Gazette-Mail:
The bill (SB 508) gives businesses virtual immunity from private “nuisance lawsuits” so long as the business does not violate a law, regulation or the terms of their license or permit. It is the latest in a line of legal reform bills, intended to give greater protection to businesses, that the Republican-led Legislature has championed since it took power after the 2014 elections.
Reporter David Gutman explains:
Gas drilling operations are noisy, often have bright lights on throughout the night and kick up lots of dust. Currently, if a neighbor can prove in court that issues like those are unreasonable and also lessen their own property value, they can recover damages.
Under the terms of the bill, the neighbors could not recover damages for things like excessive noise, light and dust. The bill would allow a nuisance suit against a driller only if the driller violated the law or the specific terms of their permit. But drilling permits do not address noise pollution, light pollution or dust, so lawsuits could not be brought on those terms, if the bill were to pass.
SB 565 - construction before a well work permit
Another bill (SB 565) advanced by the Senate would allow oil and gas drillers to begin building well pads and access roads prior to getting a well work permit approved by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The bill, which passed the Senate energy committee unanimously, would still require a permit before work could be done, but a much less stringent permit, without the requirement for submitting detailed engineering plans.
Drillers could begin construction on roads and pads with only a stormwater permit, which is meant to ensure that dirt and runoff from construction doesn’t get into rivers and streams.
They would not need a well work permit, in which the DEP inspects the engineering plans of the project.
They would still need to get that well permit to begin drilling work, but could build the well pads — often three to five acres large — without submitting engineering plans.
Both bills appear to be quite "industry-friendly" -- the same phrase that the legislature uses to characterize itself as well as the legislation that it produces. To that end the Gazette-Mail quotes industry spokesperson (and frequent Intelligencer source for pro-fracking quotes) Corky DeMarco on why these bills are important. DeMarco says that the first bill would lead to fewer lawsuits against drillers and the second would give drillers more flexibility with construction. Yes, these bill are "industry-friendly" but that phrase masks a cruel reality. Wouldn't using "consumer, land-owner, minority, and worker -unfriendly" be a more precise descriptor of these bills and, for that matter, the WV legislature?
Note -- our local "newspapers" have not covered either bill.