WVDEP Working on Permitting Rules for Storage of Captured CO2

GO-WV News

By Christopher (Kip) Power

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) is continuing work on rules for permitting of geologic storage of captured CO2 — a necessary (but not sufficient) element in developing a CCS industry.

As discussed in the August GO-WV News, the WVDEP released proposed amendments to its Underground Injection Control (UIC) permitting and related regulations (47 CSR 13) on June 23, 2021 and held a public hearing on the proposed rules on July 23, 2021. Although they include substantial changes to the rules for Class 1 permits (governing hazardous waste injection wells) and Class 2 permits (for enhanced recovery of oil and gas, and disposal of produced water), the rule changes primarily consist of an entirely new section establishing a permitting program for Class 6 wells (those used for injecting carbon dioxide for the purpose of permanent geologic sequestration). Those proposed new Class 6 rules are largely modeled on EPA’s detailed “Class VI” regulations promulgated under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act (40 CFR 146).

Ten organizations (including GO-WV and several environmental/citizen groups) filed comments on the draft amendments, and a few of their representatives spoke at the hearing. By letter dated July 23, 2021, the WVDEP released copies of the written comments it received, along with its responses. There was a total of 10 comments that the WVDEP considered to be meritorious enough to alter the proposed rule language in minor ways, almost all of which consisted of typographical errors (along with the elimination of the use of Roman numerals for identifying the “classes” of permits). The final agency-approved rule proposal was filed with the Legislative Rule-Making Review Committee on July 30, 2021 (incorporating most, but not all, of the edits mentioned in the WVDEP’s July 23 letter).

As expected, most of the comments centered on the proposed Class 6 UIC permit provisions. In this regard, the WVDEP acknowledged that it is seeking to incorporate the Class 6 provisions (new section 13) so that the approved regulations may be included as a part of an “Application for Substantial Program Update” to be filed with the EPA, requesting that WVDEP be granted primacy over the Class 6 UIC well permit program. However, for the most part the WVDEP found that concerns raised by commenters pertaining to this aspect of the regulations either addressed matters within the agency’s discretion under the rules as drafted or exceeded the scope of the UIC program. Those topics deemed to be beyond the scope of the regulations include pore space ownership (or “subsurface trespass”) concerns, enhanced set-back requirements for Class 6 projects located near sensitive areas, “liability for accidents,” and the potential transfer of liability to the State for a completed CO2 sequestration site.

The WVDEP did address two Class 6-focused comments. First, it noted that the Division of Water and Waste Management has tentatively agreed to the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey (WVGES) to review each application for a Class 6 well permit related to geologic matters, including seismicity. Although the WVDEP believes “the likelihood of induced seismicity is low,” its application for primacy over the Class 6 program will specify that no Class 6 permit application will be considered for approval until after such a WVGES review has been completed. Second, the WVDEP stated that it will await approval of primacy over the Class 6 well permit program, and some actual experience with processing Class 6 well permit applications, before it considers whether to seek a supplemental source of funding for the additional administrative burdens imposed by that program.

In short, the WVDEP’s proposal to amend its UIC regulations to incorporate the Class 6 UIC permit program, which is an important undertaking and will be a key part of application for primacy over that program, is moving along in the rule-making process. However, vesting authority in the WVDEP to issue such permits in West Virginia will almost certainly not be sufficient in and of itself to incentivize the development of carbon dioxide injection and sequestration projects of any significant size.

As other states have done (e.g., North Dakota, Texas), it is reasonable to expect that the West Virginia Legislature will need to enact statutes establishing some fundamental property and liability principles that will govern this new industry before any organization will seek a Class 6 permit to construct a sequestration facility here. Given the number of recent federal legislative proposals that promote the use of some form of carbon capture and sequestration as an important part of the country’s evolving energy policy, and the substantial additional funding that will presumably be available to support such projects, it would appear there is no time to waste in developing those complementary laws.

Click here to view the article online in the November issue of GOWV News.