Pocahontas Residents Not Convinced Of Eminent Threat By Marcellus Drilling Activities

Marlinton, WV – New York based hydro-geologist Paul Rubin urges the Pocahontas County Commissioners and residents to take environmental threats posed by Marcellus shale drilling activities seriously.

“We’re looking at a wide spread long term water quality risk,” he says. “We’re at the beginning of what’s going on in terms of the gas drilling now. There’s no race to do this tomorrow; if you think not enough is known stop it until more is known. Don’t put your ground water supplies, your endangered species and your spring water supplies at risk without knowing everything.”

But many who attended Rubin’s presentation in Marlinton last Thursday night before the Pocahontas County Commission were unconvinced by what they call his use of scare tactics’ in presenting the worst case scenarios of drilling gone wrong. When pressed, Rubin did admit there are sites where the contamination has been much less, but he seems to prefer to err on the side of caution.

“I think we’re going to initially see low levels; maybe your manganese levels or whatever different chemicals are down there will be just under some of the maximum contaminant levels, but yet far elevated from the natural background conditions,” he says. “You might have water that’s considered by the state to be safe to drink, but yet at what level and what are the medical impacts – we don’t know the answers, so the risk is there.”

Pocahontas resident Norman Alderman asked repeatedly how much the Commission paid for Rubin to appear. After three such requests, Commission President David Fleming asked a deputy to remove Alderman from the meeting for being disruptive. After he left, Fleming told the crowd that the cost for Rubin’s appearance is a little over $2000.00, primarily for travel costs.

Following the presentation by Rubin, the Commission took public comment on a resolution drafted by Fleming. After the negative reaction at the November 15th Commission meeting to an anti drilling ordinance drafted by WVU law professor Bob Bastress, Fleming sought to create a resolution that would protect native water sources from drilling and related practices. However the resolution fared no better than the ordinance.

Fleming started the conversation by reading a resolution from the Pocahontas County Free Libraries calling for restrictions or a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in the county. He also read a statement from the Pocahontas Conventions and Visitors Bureau about the importance of tourism and how it might be impacted by drilling, and a short statement from the County Board of Health saying that large scale Marcellus gas extraction represents a threat to public health.

Fleming says the resolution is merely a statement, with no enforcement powers. But Commissioner Jamie Walker questions the need for it. Walker says not enough is known about the possible effects of drilling in the county, and he has opposed the Commission’s use of outside legal counsel from the start.

“We have come up with a resolution which is why we’re here tonight,” says Walker. “Again I feel like at some point, it’s affecting your property rights at some level; it’s affecting other industry that may want to come into this county at some level. I was not in favor of that either.”

“But I’m not going to tell you that I’m in favor of Marcellus shale. I had the right to lease what little bit of ground I own in Pocahontas County and chose not to because I don’t know enough about it. But I don’t feel like I’m in favor of telling every other property owner what to do with your land either.”

Around 40 people offered comment about the resolution, most in opposition. Those opposed say the resolution language is speculative at best and fuzzy and inconsistent at worse. Many also feel that it represents the first step towards creating some kind of zoning ordinance.

By contrast, those who support the resolution applaud the Commission for trying to make a statement about protecting water sources in the county. At least two people said they couldn’t support the resolution if the Commission didn’t plan to take any further action beyond making a statement.

Following the public comment, Commissioner Fleming made a motion to approve the resolution. After saying at the beginning of the discussion that he would support a resolution protecting water, Commissioner Martin Saffer seemed to back pedal a bit when it came to the actual vote.

“I agree with Mr. Burns and everybody in the room, I want clean water,” says Saffer. “I want every one of you who opposed this resolution to help us rewrite a statement for our county that we can believe in; can we find one thing that we can all say yes about. Help me, you have a copy in front of you, give us some examples of what you believe in.”

Saffer argued to postpone calling for a vote on the resolution, but to no avail. The resolution was voted down two to one, with only Commissioner Fleming voting in favor of it.

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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