Petition Against Marcellus Shale Drilling Presented During Pocahontas County Commission Meeting
Marlinton, WV – Here’s a number for you; 631. That’s the number of signatures of Pocahontas residents on a petition to ban Marcellus Shale drilling in Pocahontas County. The petition was presented to the Pocahontas County Commissioners Tuesday night before a standing room only crowd in the county circuit courtroom.
Before presenting the petition, several people spoke about changes Marcellus Shale drilling could bring to the county. Susan Chappell says she was alarmed by what she saw in the documentary Gasland about gas drilling activities in Pennsylvania. Interest in the issue spurred her to tour the gas fields in Wetzel County to see the impact for herself.
Chappell says the gas field foot print in Wetzel is 28 square miles or 17,960 acres. She says by comparison, 18,000 acres of land have been leased in the Little Levels area of Pocahontas.
“How I related that, I took the Little Levels valley on an equal map, I pulled the wells from the Wetzel County map and placed it in the Little Levels valley,” she says. “There’s no distinction about who leased; all I did was lay the overlay onto the Little Levels valley. This is what it would like at Wetzel County’s current level of development.”
Luanne Fatora, a Pocahonts resident for about 15 years spoke about the negative aspects of gas drilling that she’s seen in her native Doddridge County, located just below Wetzel. Several other county residents also spoke including Bob Sheets, Susan Burt, and Allen Johnson. Johnson presented a resolution passed by the Pocahontas County Free Libraries board asking that the county restrict or enact a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing gas drilling in the county.
Charles Wilfong, President of the state Farm Bureau and a longtime Pocahontas County farmer, says he sees the issue in a different light. Ever since the issue of gas drilling first arose in the state, he says the Farm Bureau has held numerous seminars to educate land owners about protecting their rights. He says Pocahontas County is different from Wetzel in that many landowners also own their minerals.
“The oil and gas folks tell us that we’re sitting on top of the biggest natural gas find in the world in this part of the country,” says Wilfong. “It’s a resource that will be developed. The key is to have the provisions and protections in there so it’s developed in a responsible manner.”
“Farm Bureau, our stance is, we’re not against development of the resource; we want it done right. When you get a knee-jerk reaction like we’re probably looking at here of putting a ban on drilling, just because you don’t have some of the protections and guidelines in place, you’re taking a property right away from us as land owners and others as mineral owners. Under the [US] Constitution, you can’t do that unless you compensate people for that taking.”
Several in attendance agreed with Wilfong’s stand on property rights, even while acknowledging their concerns about protecting native water sources. Margaret Baker says this argument misses the point.
“We’re not here because we want to tell somebody else what they can do with their property,” she says. “If that Pandora’s Box of horrors would just hover right at the boundaries of the person who feel comfortable having them on their property, none of these people would be here. None of these people would be here if it wasn’t for the tractor trailers going up and down the road, the worry about methane gas explosions, and worry about wells going dry.”
“These are nice people. They would not be butting into anybody’s business if it wasn’t going to affect their property also.”
Dr. Cyla Allison and Beth Little presented the petition to the County Commissioners. Following that was a long session of public comment as Commission President David Fleming allowed 3 minutes for anyone wishing to speak on the issue. Joel Rosenthal urged the Commissioners to be bold in their stand on this issue.
“The reality is that Pocahontas County is right now at a crossroads,” says Rosenthal. “And these three Commissioners are the ones who can bail us out by standing tall. That means passing an ordinance, that means passing a ban, that means going to war with these energy companies.”