Monday, January 10, 2011

Regulating fracking

I applaud Ms. Marla Pisciotta of The Hampshire Review for shining some light on the Marcellus shale gas exploitation. It's an issue that should concern every citizen of Hampshire County; an issue that is shrouded in secrecy by the gas industry. Just by chance, I discovered a Marcellus well near my home in 2009. It's bewildering that those in positions of power and influence in our county have been virtually mute on what could be the biggest invasion on this county since the Civil War.

My greatest concern is the potential for environmental degradation. Starting with gas well spacing, how close to each other will our legislators in Charleston allow these intrusive well pads to be constructed? Will they be pervasive throughout our mountainous countryside, creating an industrial zone to feed the needs of urban America?

Even more disturbing is the fracking process used to increase a Marcellus well's commercial profitability. One percent of the average four million gallons of water used on each well is a witch's brew of toxic chemicals, some known carcinogens. One percent doesn't seem like much, but when put in perspective, one percent of four million is forty thousand. Some wells are fracked as many as ten times in their productive lives. That's four hundred thousand gallons of toxic chemicals pumped under very high pressure through our aquifers. There have been documented incidents where defective gas well casings and shoddily constructed barriers protecting drinking water have failed, poisoning water and turning rural areas into hazardous waste sites.

The political blather coming out of Charleston is insulting. The West Virginia Office of Oil and Gas has 18 inspectors and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has 12 inspectors. This is a total of 30 inspectors to oversee 150,000 existing oil and gas wells in the state, plus thousands of miles of pipeline and other infrastructure.

It is projected that by 2020 there will be 20,000 additional Marcellus wells throughout West Virginia. There were two permits issued for Marcellus drilling in Hampshire County in 2008. These exploratory wells were drilled and produced gas. The one near my home was fracked this summer. It is less than half a mile from an existing pipeline and gas storage fields that feed the Washington metropolitan area and beyond.

What next?

--Jim Dodgins

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