Commission gets update on hydro fracking in Wetzel
The Pocahontas County Commission heard from a Hillsboro woman who traveled to Wetzel County last month to see for herself the effects of drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus shale. Brynn Kusic told the commission last Tuesday that drilling there began about the time gas companies were buying leases here.
Kusic said she did research in 2008 about drilling in Marcellus shale because she was interested in educating the community. Based on that research, Kusic wrote a series of articles for this newspaper on the topic.
According to the website www.geology.com, one well drilled in the Marcellus shale may produce up to one million cubic feet of natural gas per day. Even so, drilling nearly a mile below the surface makes the Marcellus "an expensive target," the website said, noting that drilling costs could easily exceed $1 million.
Drillers access natural vertical fractures in the Marcellus shale by using horizontal drilling, or drilling one vertical hole and then drilling horizontally in the direction the shale lies. One vertical hole can have as many as six horizontal wells.
"Horizontal drilling penetrates more fractures...and creates an extensive fracture network which allows more gas to flow to the well bore," geology.com reports. "A single well can recover gas from many acres of surrounding land."
But opponents say the potential for disaster comes not from the deep drilling or even from horizontal drilling, but from a practice called hydro-fracturing, or hydro-fracking.
Hydro-fracking injects water or a chemical mixture into the well under high pressure to "induce fractures in the rock," the website says. To prevent these man-made fractures from closing once the pressure is relieved, several tons of sand or another permeable propant is pumped into the well.
Opponents blame hydro-fracking for consequences ranging from sick farm animals to flammable drinking water faucets and earthquakes.
Kusic attended legislative hearings last winter and where she heard from two Wetzel County farmers. Because of what the farmers said about their experiences with gas drilling on their property, the legislature held a day for citizens to speak.
"[The farmers] were surface owners," Kusic said. "The gas companies said they had the right to extract the minerals. They had no idea what that reality looked like."
She took the time last month to travel to Wetzel County to see for herself.
Kusic said she wanted to attend a commission meeting as soon as she returned from Wetzel County, but didn't have the words to describe what she'd seen.
"I was speechless," she said. "With everything that I know and everything that I've read, being in that county was an education all to its own. What I was witnessing was even beyond what my imagination would have allowed.
"I started to think about how [drilling] would affect our community."
In Wetzel, roads are damaged by the weight of heavy trucks, and school buses had to have escorts to ensure students' safety, she continued. Kusic said from day to day, residents there didn't know whether their roads would be usable or not.
One landowner told Kusic she had to sign in and out of her property to visit and while she was on the property, she had to wear flame retardant clothing and steel-toed boots, as well as a helmet with a protective face covering. The well pad on her property is in a hayfield where she had someday planned to build a house, Kusic said.
"She doesn't go there," Kusic said. "Why would she?"
Two West Virginia oil and gas company owners said that they were not aware of any requirements for property owners wearing protective clothing; however, larger companies may have those requirements depending on the stage of drilling. And, they said, most major companies require all contractors to use every safety precaution because of liability.
A representative of Chesapeake Energy did not respond to a phone message left at her Charleston office.
"Oil and gas companies essentially own the land once you lease," said commissioner Martin Saffer, who is also an attorney. "People need to think very seriously before they lease their fee simple estates."
Saffer said the county needs to be "up to speed" on the issues associated with drilling in the Marcellus shale.
"This is a community life issue," he said. "This is an issue of culture and history. This is big stuff."
Cyla Allison, who represented the newly-formed group 8 Rivers Council, said the group's petition has 500 signatures. The petition asks the commission to enanct a "public nuisance" ordinance that would protect the county's water supply.
The group has received feedback from visitors who live in areas where hydro-fracking begun, Allison said. Those visitors have said, "You've got to stop it," she continued.
Commissioner Jamie Walker said that money drives the gas effort.
"You have to weigh whether the trade off is worth it," he said "It's a matter of whether it's done right or rather it's done for the money."
Northern Pocahontas wellness center proposal
Rachel Taylor's dream of having a wellness center in Northern Pocahontas County got an official viewing Tuesday. Taylor told commissioners she hopes for an aquatic facility that could be used for water aerobics and physical therapy, as well as swimming.
"It would benefit all age groups and promote healthier lifestyles," Taylor noted. The facility would also be a public place to exercise.
Taylor said she'd garnered quite a bit of community support at a public meeting held at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory; however, she said, supporters have not yet determined the best location for a wellness center. One possibility is the county-owned property in Green Bank, she said
Having the center be a branch of the YMCA in Elkins is also another possibility, she said. She is in the process of finding grants that will accommodate the collaboration, she said. Yet another possibility is an joint effort with Pocahontas Memorial Hospital, she said.
Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation executive director Steve Weir said sustainability for facilities of this type is normally an issue, but joining forces with an organization like the YMCA or PMH is a "good thing to look at."
A wellness center is slated to be built in Marlinton this year. The late Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-WV) appropriated funding for the project which will house the county Parks and Recreation offices, as well as provide a gymnasium for Marlinton Elementary School.
Because of the distance from Northern Pocahontas County to Marlinton, Taylor said she hoped residents in the upper end could get funding for a similar facility.
"The center in Marlinton had a unique confluence of good fortune," Saffer said. "I don't want to discourage you, but it would seem unlikely that those stars would cross again in the skies any time soon."
Taylor said her visit was only to inform the commission of her progress thus far and to let them know "it might be in the works.
Commission president David Fleming said the Parks and Recreation Hotel/Motel budget could be increased to help provide funding for the project.
The county Parks and Recreation organization receives 32 percent of the Hotel/Motel Tax after the Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau gets its 50 percent of the total off the top. After that, the county commission allocates a portion of the funds to Pocahontas Memorial Hospital, Emergency Medical Services and the county Firefighter's Association.
In other business, the commission:
�read the names of applicants for the 9-1-1 Director position: Henry Yeager, Traci Alderman, Natasha McMann, William McMann, Mark Jonese, Randy Stemple, James Lewis, Carol Smallridge and Shawn Dunbrack. Commissioners decided to meet for a work session to review the r�sum�s and to schedule interviews
ﾕaccepted the $12,500 bid from Sheets Garage in Green Bank for a 2009 Envoy for the Sheriff's Department.
ﾕgranted the Pocahontas County Historical Society permission to use the gazebo lot in Marlinton for events associated with "The Way We Worked," a Smithsonian Exhibit scheduled to be in town in October.
ﾕappointed Roger Trusler and Sam Gibson to the Parks and Recreation Board and appointed Dr. Denise McNeel to the Pocahontas County Free Libraries Board.
ﾕread a letter from a disgruntled visitor who complained that advertised trails in the Monongahela National Forest were not well kept enough to ride. Mountain biker Howard Nickelson wrote that he'd been coming to Pocahontas County for 15 years and for the past four, several trails have been impassable. Commissioners noted that they have no jurisdiction over national forest, but also that in the current economy, the government's main focus is not on trails.
ﾕheard from Magistrate Janet Kershner-Vanover about the lack of air conditioning in the courthouse basement where her offices are located. The magistrate also complained that construction noise associated with building the elevator has made the noise levels in her offices nearly unbearable. Commissioners authorized the purchase of window air conditioners for the magistrate's assistant office and noted that noise levels should improve since the staircase is completely removed from the portion of the courthouse that will house the elevator
ﾕdesignated the GVEDC as the lead economic development agency for Pocahontas County on a 2-1 vote. Saffer dissented because, he said, the GVEDC should "recognize the uniqueness of this area and bolster [it] with educational opportunities rather than trying to do everything for everybody. I have a concern about that."
The commission meets again in regular session August 2 at 8:30 a.m.