Crowd packs courtroom for commission gas drilling session
More than 150 people attended the county commission meeting on September 20, when commissioners considered sending a letter to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regarding hydrofracture gas drilling regulations. The commission convened in the courtroom to accommodate the large crowd.
Hydrofracture drilling, or hydrofracking, involves pumping millions of gallons of fluid underground to fracture rock strata. The practice is being used in the Appalachian Mountain region of the northeast U.S. to obtain natural gas from the Marcellus shale strata.
The DEP issued temporary, emergency regulations in August to control Marcellus shale drilling and is accepting public comments as it drafts permanent regulations. The emergency regulations will remain in effect for 15 months.
County commissioners first heard from members of the Pocahontas County Farm Bureau.
Bureau chairman Donald McNeel told commissioners that Farm Bureau members were on both sides of the Marcellus shale drilling issue. Chief among bureau members' concerns, he said, were the protection of water resources and the right of owners to develop their property.
State Farm Bureau president Charles Wilfong said that regulations are needed to protect water supplies, but that a complete ban on hydrofrack drilling would be a taking of property, requiring fair compensation.
Commissioner Martin Saffer, who owns a farm at Droop Mountain, said intensive industrial development accompanying hydrofrack gas drilling would drastically change the Pocahontas County community for the worse.
Following Farm Bureau members, 44 county residents provided comments. An overwhelming majority expressed a desire for a ban or very strong regulation of hydrofracking in Pocahontas County.
ﾕCounty libraries director Allen Johnson read a resolution, passed by the county libraries board, requesting that the county commission "restrict or enact a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing gas drilling, as it would disrupt community quality of life as it currently exists, threaten and deplete the natural resources, environment, and ecology as it currently exists, and derivatively, decrease library income and resultant library services to the county."
ﾕCyla Allison and Beth Little presented a petition with 631 signatures to ban hydrofracking in Pocahontas County.
ﾕSusan Chappell displayed photographs of environmental damage from Marcellus shale drilling in Wetzel County and showed a map overlay, indicating the footprint that a typical gas well field would have in Pocahontas County.
ﾕLouAnne Fatora displayed photographs of water pollution in Doddridge County resulting from Marcellus gas drilling and said the DEP was completely unable to control the gas rush occurring in other parts of the state. Fatora urged commissioners to ban hydrofrack drilling in Pocahontas County because of the environmental danger.
ﾕDavid Harmon said that 40-percent of the natural gas being extracted from the Marcellus shale is being sent to China and that Americans are left with the environmental damage.
ﾕJay Miller told commissioners that the unique karst terrain of Pocahontas County justifies exceptional regulations to protect the water supply.
ﾕBob Sheets said that Marcellus shale drilling represents the latest phase of corporate exploitation of West Virginia's people and land.
ﾕAlan Balogh paraphrased George Washington's farewell address, in which the first president told Americans they must strive toward the common good over individual desires.
ﾕJoel Rosenthal, perched in the judge's chair overlooking the standing-room only courtroom, railed at commissioners to ban hydrofracking in Pocahontas County and declared "this is war" between gas companies and hydrofracking opponents.
After listening to public comments for more than four hours, the commission voted 3-0 to send a previously-drafted letter to the DEP. The letter states that proposed regulations are "grossly inadequate" and requests that the agency enact much stronger regulation of hydrofrack drilling.
Among several other requirements, the letter requests: water testing before and during drilling operations, paid for by gas operators; no period of limitations for water contamination and a $5 million bond for every hydrofrack well drilled; no hydrofrack wells within sight of state parks or within one mile of incorporated municipalities; no water withdrawal from any water source without county commission review and public comment; DOH road and bridge monitoring for weight and safety violations and a ban on forced pooling.
Saffer conceded that the DEP was likely to disregard much of what the letter requested, but the courtroom crowd erupted in celebration after the commission unanimously approved the letter.
In other matters, the commission opened bids for the capping and other work to remediate the sludge pond at the East Fork industrial site in Frank. Six contractors submitted bids for the work, ranging from $398,267 to $494,090. The commission turned the bids over to consulting engineer William Swecker, who said he would review the bids and make a recommendation within a week.
Swecker said he would return bonds from all but the three three lowest bids, which were from: RBS, Inc., $398,267; Green River Group, $421,975 and Capitol Valley Contracting, $424,090.
In other business, the commission:
ﾕ appointed Morgan McComb to the county farmland protection board for a term expiring on June 30, 2012.
ﾕ took no action on bids for cleaning at the One Room University in Marlinton.
ﾕ heard a update on Water Resources task force progress from Lynmarie Knight.
ﾕ approved a four-year contract on voting machine maintenance for $2,750 per year.
ﾕ approved a $1,000 budget revision for the One Room University.
ﾕapproved an agreement with tax assessor Dolan Irvine to map all gas leases since 2007 in the GIS system. The commission will pay any costs associated with the mapping project to the assessor's office.