Pocahontas County Commission Not Happy With Forest Service Stand On Marcellus Drilling

Marlinton, WV – Gas drilling could occur in the Monongahela National Forest. At the Pocahontas County Commission meeting on August 2nd, Commission President David Fleming read a letter from Monongahela National Forest Supervisor Clyde Thompson. To say that the Commissioners were disappointed in the letters’ content would be an understatement.

At a previous Commission meeting, they had approved sending a letter to the forest service asking for clarification about gas drilling on national forest land, particularly in light of what happened in the Fernow Experimental Forest in neighboring Randolph County. According to a report released earlier this year by US Forest Service researcher Mary Beth Adams, in June of 2008, 303,000 liters or over 80,000 gallons of hydrofracturing fluid from a gas well were applied to an area of hardwoods about half an acre in size. Her report says during application, there was obvious damage and mortality of ground vegetation. After 10 days, they noticed premature leaf drop from the tops of the trees and after two years, 56% of the trees in the application area were dead.

In his letter Thompson says the area the fluids were applied to was too small. Commissioner Fleming reads this excerpt from Thompson’s letter explaining the high mortality rate of the trees.

“As a result the amount of Chloride delivered to the small area appears to have been too high, causing the trees and ground vegetation to die” reads Fleming, “this is not a typical result. If future needs arise for the land application of drilling fluids on the Monongahela National Forest, the minerals specialist will continue to ensure that land base is large enough to accommodate the amount of pit fluids being considered for application.”

Commissioner Fleming goes on to read another aspect that doesn’t sit well with the Commission.

“In response to your question about the forest service permitting horizontal drilling and related practices in the Monongahela National Forest, such practices could occur” reads Fleming. “The forest service has no authority to deny private oil and gas owners the right to use common and accepted industry practices to develop their mineral estate under National Forest land. When the oil and gas is federally owned, the forest service controls are limited to surface resources management and protection.”

Yet in their proposed draft plan, the George Washington National Forest would specifically prohibit horizontal drilling while still allowing for more conventional vertical drilling. To date, 12,000 acres of the George Washington National Forest have been leased, but no drilling has occurred on forest land. The forest covers over 1 million acres in Virginia and West Virginia. It spans 17 counties, including Bath County, which like Pocahontas, is over 50% forest land.

Commissioner Martin Saffer is underwhelmed by the letter from Thompson.

“I’m disappointed with the forest services’ control of what’s going on in the forest” says Saffer. “It seems to me to be a lot of buck passing and this isn’t our bailiwick. I’m also alarmed that 38% of the mineral below the forest are actually privately owned; that’s a huge number. And also the other federally owned minerals, it doesn’t seem that they are necessarily against leasing federally owned oil and gas as well.”

Commissioner Fleming says he will draft a letter to the Bureau of Land Management for consideration at the next Commission meeting. The BLM oversees the permitting of leases for mineral exploration and drilling.

Story By

Heather Niday

Heather is our Program Director and Traffic Manager. She started with Allegheny Mountain Radio as a volunteer deejay. She then joined the AMR staff in February of 2007. Heather grew up in the Richmond, Virginia, area and now lives in Arbovale, West Virginia with her husband Chuck. Heather is a wonderful flute player, and choir director for Arbovale UMC. You can hear Heather along with Chuck on Tuesday nights from 6 to 8pm as they host two hours of jazz on Something Different.

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