Pocahontas Commissioners Travel To Wetzel To Get Up Close And Personal With Marcellus Shale Wells
Wileyville, WV – With talk of horizontal drilling a possibility for Pocahontas County, the County Commission traveled to Wetzel to get a firsthand look at the effects of the practice in the county. Pocahontas resident Brynn Kusic organized the tour, and two members of the local press accompanied the Commissioners.
The tour started with the group splitting up into two vehicles driven by our guides Rose Baker and Bill Hughes. After passing a large gravel parking lot on Route 7, we began our ascent up a steep 18% grade gravel and hardtop road.
“This is their main access road and that is their main staging area back there at our request,” she says, “because when they first started drilling in here, we would have hundreds of trucks sitting along our roads every day, because they all couldn’t fit on the well site at the same time. So we came up with a solution for Chesapeake, was to put staging area in somewhere so that the trucks could only come in as they needed them. And this road was only about half this wide. We have 32 well sites right now, with 48 more planned.”
Baker says that means 32 separate well pads, some with multiple bore holes, plus at least 2 large compressor sites where the gas from the various pads is collected and processed before being sent on to other states such as Pennsylvania. Wetzel County has a long history of oil and gas exploration, and you see the occasional vertical gas well and small oil wells from the main roads, but they’re small and generally unobtrusive. But once off the main roads, and up on the ridges where the marcellus well pads are, it’s not quite as bucolic.
“You will see with your own eyes, when we go on Marty Whiteman’s, top of his hill, you’ll be able to see five well pads, plus the compressor station,” says Baker. “Some of the wells are probably only half a mile apart.”
Baker confirms that they’ve seen detrimental changes in their water.
“My sister in law, her farm borders the back of my farm, when they came in here and started drilling in November of ’07, shortly after that her horses quit drinking her water,” she says. “She has a 300 foot deep well, the horses quit drinking it. She had it tested and it has methane, benzene, toluene; it has all sorts of stuff in it.”
She says the water didn’t have those chemicals before, but they never thought about getting it tested before drilling started.
“We didn’t have any baseline test done because at that time we didn’t know to do that,” she says. “It’s one thing that we tell everybody, if you have drilling coming your way, get baseline water test done. Bonnie has even had the EPA come out and test her water, the West Virginia DEP and the EPA came; and because there was no baseline water test, no proof.”
“And there’s a guy up the road who has some old junk cars sitting there and our DEP told us that her water probably got contaminated from one of his old cars, the gasoline leaking out. But they never went and tested his soil to see if that was true.”
She says she hasn’t drunk any of the water from her natural spring for at least a year and a half after discovering it also contains chemicals used in the fracing process.
“We have another gentleman over on Fish Creek, his home is within 1200 feet of a well,” she says. “He had a good water well, he built a brand new home there, and right after they drilled, his well went dry. And shortly after his well went dry, he could smell gas. Well now he has a methane well in his back yard. He keeps it lit to keep it burnt off.”
She says he’s now embroiled in a lawsuit against the driller, Chesapeake Energy. And it’s not just water problems that came with drilling. Baker says some families have been irretrievably split over the issue of whether to sign a mineral lease or not. But with drillers offering as much as $2500.00 to 3700.00 per acre, plus royalties, it’s perhaps understandable that some have accepted the potential downsides.
Baker says the ones who suffer most are surface only landowners, whose land is taken with little or no regard to the value for those who own it. We’ll hear from a couple of those landowners on Monday during noon hour.