Commission to write letter concerning Marcellus Shale
County commissioners had some strong words for state leaders who took no action on gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale, but had little other recourse currently than to write a letter to those same leaders to "send a clear signal that we are dissatisfied."
More than 15 people crowded into the commission's meeting room to present a petition signed by 265 county residents asking the county's governing body to institute a moratorium on drilling any gas wells into the Marcellus geological formation within the county until December 31, 2014.
Commissioner Martin Saffer said the commission has no legal authority to act.
Each lease is an enforceable contract, he explained, and no government agency has the ability to undermine that contract. Otherwise, he said, it would be an act of eminent domain.
"We can't take away the right of people to do what they want with their property," Saffer said.
However, he said, we can take steps to protect the health, safety and welfare of our county. He suggested a letter to state leaders, whom he said had taken no leadership.
"I'm in dismay," he said. "But I'm not na�ve. Are you surprised? I'm not surprised."
Saffer said that because of the money involved with drilling in Marcellus Shale, state leaders and agencies are reluctant to take action. While the oil and gas industry should not be ignored, Saffer said neither should it be "barking orders" to the state.
That does not mean Pocahontas County should not take a leadership role, he continued.
Commissioner Jamie Walker agreed that money has driven the conversation about drilling for gas in the Marcellus Shale, both for landowners and for state government leaders.
"So much money is being circulated, that's what people are looking at," he said.
Beth Little raised concerns she and others have about drilling in the Marcellus Shale. Little said residents, even those who have signed leases, should continue to educate themselves about the drilling process and find out what they can expect.
Little was lukewarm about the upcoming education event in Oak Hill hosted by the WVU Extension Service because oil and gas industry leaders like Chesapeake are sponsoring it.
"They don't just drill a well, they drill a gas field," Little said, noting that after the vertical well is drilled and the horizontal hole is bored, the fracking process begins. Fracking involves putting a water, sand and chemical mixture into the ground under pressure. The chemical elements are not disclosed, but are industry secrets. Environmental Protection Agency studies of fracking are not expected to be completed until the end of 2012, Little said.
Little said the two-to-five percent failure rate is good for construction, but for drilling these type wells where groundwater contamination could be an issue, is not.
Combined with Pocahontas County's vast karst topography, that failure rate could mean marked damage on groundwater resources, she said. For instance, she said, Marcellus Shale is radioactive and scientists have not been funded to study the effects of releasing that radioactivity either into the atmosphere above ground or into caves and fractures below ground.
Karst formations are vulnerable to contamination because they do not have natural impermeable zones.
Little said that prior to processing, gas has no odor, and could be introduced into caves where any spark could cause an explosion.
Little listed other potential hazards that go hand-in-hand with drilling in the Marcellus Shale, including air pollution and noise.
Wyoming now has air quality similar to Los Angeles, California, because of gas drilling there, she said. Drill rigs will run 24 hours a day for weeks, sometimes months, Little explained, as drilling goes on for several wells in one area.
While not an environmental hazard, commission president David Fleming said forced pooling-surrounding neighbors who have signed leases force a neighbor who has not to have his or her property hydrofracked for gas-is the equivalent to underground eminent domain.
Hillsboro resident Larry Kearns told commissioners that no one wanted to deny landowners from making money with their land and resources; however, he said, Pocahontas County is the birthplace of rivers and what happens here will have an effect on those downstream.
And Trish McNaull reminded commissioners that West Virginia has been providing energy to the rest of the country for generations at considerable health risk to its people.
"Cancer rates are higher here," McNaull said, " because no one stepped in to protect the people."
Cancer rates in West Virginia between 2003 and 2007 have risen overall, with a few cancers like stomach, ovarian, esophageal and breast cancers decreasing, while prostate, kidney, liver and thyroid cancers are on the rise for all ages and races and both genders. (National Program of Cancer Registries)
The site did not name causes of cancer incidences.
Commissioners not keen on elevator idea
WYK Associates opened bids for the planned elevator for the courthouse to collective groans from county commissioners since all the bids came in at least $100,000 more than budgeted, even when alternate deductions were made.
The highest bid was more than $1 million, while the lowest bid was more than $900,000. After alternate deductions, the lowest bid was still more than $800,000. Commissioners had budgeted $700,000 for the project and did not include a $65,000 contingency fund.
Saffer said voters would not countenance such an expenditure, but Fleming reminded his fellow commissioners that this undertaking is the minimal needs project down from a $5 million courthouse annex.
The courthouse, with its decades old lift chair that is generally non-functional, is barely compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The project includes removing the lift, installing an elevator that could cost up to $130,000, and developing a ramp that is ADA compliant. It also solves some of the problems of courtroom security, taking a walkway out of a third floor witness room and it adds some much-needed storage space for courthouse denizens.
Commissioners will further review the bids and discuss them at the next commission meeting.
In other business, commissioners:
ﾕappointed Dan Lewis to the Pocahontas Memorial Hospital Board to fill the unexpired term of the late Ron Tibbs, who passed away in March. Lewis is a former hospital administrator.
ﾕapproved Gwynne Furr to mow grass at East Fork Industrial Park and Dick Robinson to mow county property in East Cass. Saffer voted against both measures, saying he would like to advertise the opportunities to other residents. Fleming and Walker agreed to do that next year.
ﾕdenied a Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation request for $10,000 to pay for half the utilities at Edray Industrial Park.
ﾕagreed on a schedule to consider financial requests from civic groups that are not already budgeted. Commissioners will act on those request in May, August, November and February.
ﾕagreed to pay travel expenses for Water Resources Task Force VISTA Clay Condon until May 31.
ﾕread a proclamation for National Child Abuse Prevention Month.
ﾕapproved budget revisions for the prosecuting attorney and for the special election.
ﾕtold Assessor Dolan Irvine to investigate further energy efficient windows for the courthouse annex. Irvine said he would pay for 14 of those windows from his budget.
ﾕawarded the bid for the reconstruction of the front steps to Keith Beverage, who bid $8,500 on the project.
The commission meets again in regular session April 19 at 5:30 p.m.