Wetzel County Surface Owners Losers On Gas Leases
Wileyville, WV – On September 15th, the Pocahontas County Commissioners went to Wetzel County to see for themselves the effects of horizontal drilling in the Marcellus Shale on the lives of those who live there. Some of those most adversely affected are the landowners who only own the surface rights, especially when someone else leases the mineral rights beneath their land. Landowner Dewey Teal has firsthand knowledge of this situation.
“When I knew about it, I walked out here one day and tripped over some stakes that was out here,” says Teal. “And my brother-in-law was supposed to be caretaker over the farm then, it was in heir ship; but now I’ve bought it all out. This was 19 feet higher when they started.”
What used to be a grass covered knoll is now a flat plain that houses two gas well heads surrounded by concrete barriers, large drip gas and brine tanks and a large separator unit. Teal says large trucks come to the drilling pad 2 to 3 times a week to haul off the gas. He says the gas company has not communicated well with him.
“They have never came to my house and told me they was going to do anything,” he says. “When they first came in here they told me what all they would do and it they was going to flare or whatever, or when they started fracking, they would let me know, and saying they wouldn’t pollute my water and this and that; they’ve polluted my water and everything else on it. The pony won’t even drink water out of the well or anything I have to haul water from town.”
He says the company did at first offer to drill a new water well near his home, and even went so far as to get a permit.
“And then they came in one day and said we’re not doing that, cause they were done then with what they wanted to do,” says Teal. “Chesapeake [Energy] is supposed to have checked it; they even got water out of it and was supposed to have checked it before they fracked these wells. Well I tried to get a copy of that where they’d tested it and I never did get it, still haven’t gotten it.”
Teal says each well took at least six months of round the clock drilling generating a great deal of both noise and light disturbance across the closely spaced ridges. He says there have been other disputes with Chesapeake since the wells went in, sometimes in getting access to his land, sometimes in keeping their large trucks from using the well site as a turnaround. And as far as the promise of free gas? That only applies if he’s willing to invest $30,000.00 in a regulator that will convert the gas into a form he can use.
On a nearby windswept ridge, Sarah Wood and her family raise sheep on the Lisa and Marty Whiteman farm. Like Teal, her family owns the surface only, while a nearby neighbor owns the mineral rights under their land as well as his own. He signed a mineral lease that prevents drilling on his land, but allows it on the Whiteman farm.
Wood says they’ve worked for 20 years to accumulate the 256 acres of farmland that they own. But after the lease was signed, the gas company took 20 acres of their land that used to produce 1000 bales of hay per season.
“Twenty acres of your best hay field, better laying ground than this is here, it’s beautiful,” says Wood. “It’s gone now they just turned it into a production zone.”
She says they’ve also had a lot of issues with a nearby gas well just the next ridge over from their family home.
“We’ve had a lot of problems with this pad here, it’s called the Rhine pad,” she says. “But since the legislature won’t pass laws to protect us, we get exposed to these fumes that they just blow off in the air. My God, we went about six months where we would wake up with headaches every morning; and I knew when I had a headache, I could look out and they’d be blowing off just raw fumes. And who knows what it is, cause I don’t.”
She says as a registered nurse, she knows the fumes can’t be good for her family or her little boy. She also says she’s begged for help from the EPA and the Wetzel County Commission to no avail. They’ve also been told not to drink their water by the company who tested it.
And she says the gas company lied to them about the well site, saying it would be one small well head that they could mow around. Instead, it’s a large well pad that she and her family aren’t allowed to visit without protective equipment. Wood and her father testified before the West Virginia legislature during their discussions on Marcellus rules. For now, she says they are still hoping that others will not be mislead as they have.