What caused big fracking fluid spill in Doddridge County?

October 2, 2009 by Ken Ward Jr.


West Virginia regulators aren’t saying exactly what happened, but environmentalists are growing increasingly concerned about a large spill of  “fracking fluid” from a gas drilling operation in Doddridge County.

The incident in question apparently occurred in late August along Buckeye Run, between West Union and Salem.  The stream is a tributary of Middle Island Creek, and the drilling operation run by West Union-based TAPO under a permit issued by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.

Luanne McConnell Fatora, who grew up along Buckeye Run, learned of the spill on the evening of Aug. 24, and described her experience in a letter to Gov. Joe Manchin, which was published in the Highlands Voice, the newsletter of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy:

I went home to Doddridge County to spend the night with my oldest son as we were going to Oberlin, Ohio, the next day to get him settled in at college. My son chose that route as it would give him just one more opportunity to cast his line in the waters of Buckeye Run Creek.

He headed down to the creek at 9 p.m. and came back saying there appeared to be a ‘problem.’ We took flashlights down to our fishing hole, the acrid, oily smell of this red/orange gel met us almost up to the house. I got it on my hands, the smell of which didn’t go away for some time despite repeated washing.

Well, it’s now more than a month later. And when I talked to James Martin, chief of the DEP Office of Oil and Gas, on Friday, he said his agency “still can’t say exactly what transpired.”

But, between 50 and 70 barrels of what a DEP inspector called “the contaminate” has been cleaned out of Buckeye Creek. Martin told me the material is consistent with what you would find in “drilling pit fluids,” the toxic wastes leftover from gas drilling, especially in the Marcellus Shale formation that’s all the rage with the gas industry.

Citizens, environmentalists and some officials in a variety of gas-producing states have become increasing concerned about water pollution tied to the disposal of this fracking fluid, or brine. Abrahm Lustgarten of ProPublica has been documenting this problem nationwide with his great reporting.

In West Virginia, the WVDEP has issued some proposed rules to try to get a handle on this issue.  But officials in neighboring Pennsylvania have gone to the federal EPA, worried that West Virginia isn’t doing enough and that the pollution will cross the border in the Monongahela River.

In the Doddridge County incident, WVDEP officials did issue an Notice of Violation to the drilling company.  But environmental groups worry that’s not enough, and they especially want to know exactly what happened — something that WVDEP says it hasn’t been able to figure out. Oddly, though, WVDEP inspector David Scranage wrote in a memo that he has “no proof that this was a deliberate act by the operator and shall commend the efforts made to correct the situation.”

And in a letter responding to  Luanne McConnell Fatora’s concerns, Gov. Manchin made quite the ironic typo:

I am in receipt of your recent correspondence and pictures regarding Buckeye Creek in Doddridge County. I appreciate you brining this matter to my attention.

7 Responses to “What caused big fracking fluid spill in Doddridge County?”

  1. Bruce Edinger says:

    Great! I used to live very close to Buckeye Creek.

    There is going to be an up or down vote tonight at the Wheeling City council, to allow Marcellus Shale drilling in Oglebay and Wheeling Parks by Chesapeake. So it seems if there are pollution problems, if they are the result of incompetence instead of purposefulness, the will be off the hook in the eyes of the WVDEP.

    Why is this drilling being allowed when the safeguards appear ineffective??

  2. Mary Lee Scalf says:

    It would seem that WVDEP is usless. They certainly have done nothing to protect our mountains from mountaintop removal so why would they care about the toxic waste produced by well fracking. They don’t and won’t.

  3. George Monk says:

    Thanks for writing about this event. I’ve been told that the pit that held the fluids was constructed next to the creek and that is certainly a contributing factor to what happened. To the best of my knowledge neither current nor proposed regulations have a limitation on how close an oil and gas operator can put a waste pit in relation to surface water. There is also no limitation in relation to ground water. Some of these pits can contain over a quarter million gallons of waste.

  4. Allow me to introduce myself so that what I am about to say doesn’t seem as if it came from some bafoon out of the wilds of California. I am Dr Abe Beagles, Director of Research at Cal-Neva Water Quality Research Institue and we have worked in the arena of shale play Floback and Produced waters ever since 2003. To start with there is a technology available to all of these oil companies that hooks directly to the well head and takes this Floback water directly into a piece of equipment that destroys the contaminants within it by destroying the water and then re-constituting it through a fuel cell and this water can be reused in the next well which would stop the draining of your streams, rives and your aquifers. The technology is called the Plasma Incubator Reactor System but the oil companies don’t want to use it because it is more expensive than putting the water down one of their own down hole wells which will cost them from 25 cents to 65 cents per barrel while recycling it would only cost $1.70 per barrel. This would end the need for this water to sit in a pit where problems could develop.
    There is a second technology available also called Electro-coagulation and it uses a DC power source to remove the contaminants from this water so that it doesn’t need to be destroyed and then re-constituted and it too will allow the water to be recycled. For information on these technologies you can go to the Green Pages at http://www.eco-web.com/authors and the 4th to the 7th papers address these technologies.

  5. Bravo!!! Honor to the people who have lived along and love Buckeye Creek!!! Fracturing fluid waste contains numerous endocrine disrupting chemicals as well as known and suspected human carcinogens. It is wrong to dump this toxic waste in a pit dug in the Earth. This is wrong because no significant effort is being made to isolate this toxic material from the soil, and the water that is intricately intertwined with the soil. The gas companies do not care about the soil, or the water or the animals or the people. They should have no power to damage these beautiful things. The Bush/Cheney administration gave a great amount of power to abuse the Earth to the gas companies. Now it is time to take that power away from them. The exemptions from the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act that Bush/Cheney granted to the gas companies must be voided.

    For a detailed description (in the words of Louanne Fatora) of the Buckeye Creek waste fracturing fluid contamination incident visit the radio4all.net website at the URL found below.

    Cancer Action Network Alert

    What Poisoned Buckeye Creek in West Virginia, USA? She’s figuring it out! We believe it is shale gas drilling related.

    Louanne Fatora became an environmental activist during the past several weeks. She seems to be learning very fast and doing a great job of trying to determine what corporation poisoned the creek that runs by her family home in the hills of West Virginia. The waste disposal pit containing waste fracturing fluid that was dumped there when a gas well was drilled seems to Louanne and other environmentally sensitive people to be the most likely source of the contamination, but West Virginia State government officials say they are not sure where the poison in the creek came from. Anyone that has some spare time needs to get involved in this struggle and help the Earth Mother and Louanne out. Honor to Louanne Fatora!


  6. BER-87 says:

    Well, there you have it! A way to at least take care of the waste water coming back to the surface. Thanks for putting this out there Dr. Abe. While this is the immediate threat, I think we should be equally or even more concerned about the millions of gallons of waste water remaining in the ground. I’ve heard the excuses about how numerous layers of shale keep the fluids from coming back to the top. Well, it seems only common sense that if there is any water down there, then it had to get in somehow, right? If it found its way in, then surely it can find its way back out. I would venture to say that these layers of shale don’t span the entire country. Oh yeah, then there is the case where 28 miles of ground water was polluted by fracking water. It’s time to stop this nonsense.

  7. […] The dangers of water pollution from gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale have been made abundantly clear by the reporting of the folks at ProPublica and by local problems like the bill spill from a drilling site in Doddridge County discussed here last week. […]

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