Pocahontas Commissioners Continue To Grapple With Marcellus Issues
Frost, WV – During the December edition of Commissioners Corner on Allegheny Mountain Radio, the Pocahontas County Commissioners spoke about Marcellus gas drilling and the recent special meetings with experts on the issue. In November two geologic experts spoke to the Pocahontas County Commission about the possibility of Marcellus shale drilling in the county. Tim Carr, a geologist at WVU, says the possibility is a small one. Paul Rubin, a hydrogeologist from New York, didn’t opine on the possibility of drilling coming to the county, but urges the Commissioners to nonetheless take steps now to protect county water sources should the practice come here. The presentations left many listeners feeling confused over where the truth lies.
For Commission President David Fleming, there is no dispute about the required amount of water needed and the truck traffic, lights and noise that accompany the hydrofracturing process used to extract the natural gas.
“The truths are as we’ve seen them on the ground first hand, as we’ve done our research and read in the New York Times, the extensive reporting they’ve been doing there on the practice,” he says. “The truth is also that Highland County is now with this threat too and the citizens there are beginning to take notice and form their thoughts and collect their information. Highland County is also marginally in the [Marcellus] fairway.”
According to a report released in April 2011 by the US Dept of the Interior, a Reasonably Foreseeable Development Scenario or RFDS is developed for oil and natural gas in the George Washington National Forest [GWNF] that covers a large area in western Virginia, including Highland and Bath Counties. It covers a time period of 15 years and includes all lands within the forest area regardless of mineral rights ownership. Although exploration has been sparse, the Marcellus underlies more than 50 percent of forest area and oil and gas occurrence is considered high.
To date, five wells have been drilled on GWNF lands; four exploratory and one development. All five were dry holes. There are other exploratory wells drilled on private lands between or within the GWNF, but only one discovery was made, that in the Bergton area of Rockingham County, according to the report. A drilling permit application has been submitted in Rockingham County for a Bergton area well by Carrizo (Marcellus) LLC. As of July 2010, the Rockingham Supervisors had taken no action on the permit application.
As far as what actions the Pocahontas Commission should take, Fleming says at the very least, he is paying close attention to the Marcellus bill currently under consideration by the West Virginia legislature.
“I have read through the entire draft bill as proposed,” says Fleming. “And it has a number of sort of weak spots if you will, and isn’t very precise in some regards. In particular with regard to water quality, its language seems to sort of pass the buck between the DEP and another body that may or may not actually exist.”
He says he’s encouraged to see additional information in the bill concerning drilling in karst terrain, but would like to see it more clearly defined. Fleming says Governor Tomblin feels the bill as drafted is too anti-business, and he wonders if a special session on the bill will be held before the end of the year.
Fleming doesn’t rule out the possibility of addressing the issue further at the county level. Commissioner Jamie Walker questions whether or not the Commission should take any action.
“As far as taking an action, number one is what kind of penalty is it going to refer to,” says Walker. “If your penalty is fines, I don’t think money is an object to these people.”
“The next thing is the right to the property owner to restrict their own property. Probably 90 percent of the leases in Pocahontas County is going to be up in the next year to three years. If we could find someone that could help these people write their leases if they’re willing to renew to protect themselves and their neighbors, I think that is the easiest way to come to a solution without trying to separate everybody out and turn everybody against each other whether you’re for or against it.”
Commissioner Martin Saffer says they should be concentrating their efforts on the existing challenges the county faces.
“Again, we only have so much attention and resource, and as a Commission and as a County I think we should stop looking for solutions in search of a problem,” says Saffer, “and start looking at problems and trying to solve the ones that we have; education, drug addiction, child abuse, lack of work skill, lack of work ethic, doing things that are real and in front of us.”
This issue will be a topic of discussion once again during the Commissioner’s meeting on December 7th. You can find the agenda for that meeting at the Commissions website, www.pocahontascountycommission.com.