Steptoe & Johnson PLLC: Fayette County, W. Va., Commission Amends Code to Require Local Approval for UIC Wells

Operators of future underground injection wells in Fayette County, West Virginia will be required to obtain a permit from the county approving the placement of the well. The County Commission amended the development code to require permits for underground injection control (UIC) wells.

A public hearing will be required before the county board of zoning on permit applications for proposed UIC wells located in districts zoned for heavy industrial use. Three public hearings will be required before the county board of zoning, the planning commission, and the County Commission for underground injection control wells proposed to be located in areas not zoned for heavy industrial use.

Local concern centered initially around two underground injection wells already located in Fayette County which are being used to dispose of oil and gas exploration wastewater. Environmental groups claim the wells threaten local drinking water sources and the environment though the use of UIC wells has been a common practice for the disposal of oil and gas exploration wastewater for generations and has been promoted by state officials in West Virginia and other states as a preferred method of addressing oil and gas exploration wastewater as opposed to on-site disposal or disposal through surface waters.

Passage of these new rules and permit requirements brings the issue of local regulation of the oil and gas industry back into the spotlight following past attempts and challenges to local ordinances attempting to ban the use of hydraulic fracturing in city limits. Such an ordinance was challenged and struck down being preempted by existing state laws addressing oil and gas regulation only a few years ago.

Like the Morgantown, West Virginia ordinance, this new local regulation is susceptible to similar attack upon the basis of state preemption under existing state laws. 

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