Morgantown drilling approved with no public input

May 6, 2011 by Ken Ward Jr.

The Morgantown Dominion Post broke the story yesterday (subscription required) about the state Department of Environmental Protection approving two permits for Marcellus gas wells to be drilled just upstream from the area’s drinking water intakes along the Monongahela River.

As they reported:

Site preparation has begun, said Michael John, president of Northeaste Natural Energy, the Charleston-based company that will do the drilling …

… John said the two permits — issued March 10 and March 23 — allow the company to drill two wells on the pad — MIP No. 4H and No. 6H. If various factors pan out — including the wells’ productivity and pipeline capacity — the company may drill four more on the same pad.

The Dominion Post has a follow-up story today (subscription required), reporting:

A Monongahela River watershed group wants the Department of Environmental Protection to study the potential health ans safety risks of two Marcellus wells planned for the Morgantown Industrial Park — and preferably hold the permits until the risks can be assessed.

The letter from the WV/PA Monongahela Area Watershed Compact (which I’ve posted here) raises a number of issues:

— Any leakage, seepage, spillage, or blow-out of liquid pollutants would be a direct threat to the water intake of the Morgantown Utility Board (MUB), that serves the greater metropolitan area of nearly 100,000 people, including many residential and business areas, and the entire populace of West Virginia University ( about 40,000 people). MUB supplies to Morgantown, Westover, Granville, Laurel Point, Scotts Run, Star City, Pleasant Valley, Cheat View, and Stewartstown as well as Milan Pharmaceuticals, Inc., and the Ft. Martin and Longview power plants.

— The diverse air emissions including controlled and inadvertent releases, fugitive emissions, blow-outs, and accidental incidents that represent a major threat to the people and property here in the Monongahela River valley.

— Fire and explosion hazards, as evidenced by a number of incidents in northern West Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania; this includes the flash-fire in Washington County (PA) on February 23rd that resulted in serious injuries to three workers, two of whom were WV residents; and the recent Marcellus well blow-out in Bradford County (PA) which spread toxic fluids over a wide area despite the engineering and operating best practices of the drilling company involved. This also resulted in a temporary halt to fracking by this company in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

The citizen group told DEP Secretary Randy Huffman in its letter:

We believe that these permitted wells plus those that may be added, can present a significant and real threat to the health and safety of residents of this area. Your office is empowered to take substantive actions when such threats to public health and safety occur; and, we herewith request that you do so without delay.

DEP spokeswoman Kathy Cosco told the Dominion Post her agency would review the letter, but added:

We’re following the regulations that we have to follow; until we have more, we don’t have the authority behind us on a lot of things they want us to do.

One thing that these particular drilling permits are sure to cause a stir about: The lack of any requirement for DEP to issue a public notice or seek public comments — let alone hold a public hearing — before it issues permits for drilling that might impact public health and safety.

As Kathy Cosco told me in an e-mail message last night:

… There was no public hearing or comment period for these permits. Oil and Gas regulations do not call for public hearings or a comment period for well work permits. The company is required to notify the surface property owner or owners, the natural gas owner, coal owners, coal lessees and operators, and those parties have 15 days to submit comments related to the permit.

The lack of public involvement is in stark contrast to the regulations that govern many other industrial activities, and certainly quite less stringent than what the coal industry has to follow in West Virginia.

Earlier this year, the West Virginia Environmental Council made adding a requirement for public notice and comment among the top priorities for any new legislation on oil and gas drilling in the state, saying in a position paper:

The impacts of Marcellus Shale operations are felt far beyond the surface tracts being disturbed. Impacts can occur to public lands, special places, high quality streams, neighboring landowners, and local infrastructure. Therefore, EVERY permit application to drill a horizontal should be officially noticed to the public (via newspaper ads, etc.), and should include a 30-day public comment period (this is in addition to all the appropriate notice provisions to surface owners and others).

9 Responses to “Morgantown drilling approved with no public input”

  1. vashti says:

    exploding drinking water?

  2. I know that the Gas/Drilling Companies/Politicians don’t care about anything but profits. I care about my family, my neighbors, my community and my pets and my friends pets. The aftermath of the fracking process could leave us with leakage, seepage, spillage, or blow-out of liquid pollutants would be a direct threat to the water supply……………I’m seriously considering selling my property at a loss and moving to a community that actually cares about quality of my life.

  3. Vito says:

    A story such as this one ( Morgantown drilling approved with no public input) will be repeated many times more as the Marcellus boom continues. The already wealthy politicians and real estate barrons WILL cash in on the natural gas boom regardless of public meetings !

    It’s West Virginia politics folks and you should know this !!!!

  4. Bob Kincaid says:

    Ken,

    This is sadly unsurprising. Because the DEP is utterly unaccountable to the public, it is able to act with impunity as long as the actions are consistent with the wishes of the profit-at-any-cost community.

    While you describe the regulations for the coal industry as “stringent,” another adjective might be “fraudulent.” Coal-related public hearings and comment periods are mere mummeries with foregone conclusions that cover for an agency dedicated not to “Protection,” but to “Permitting.” A DEP official once told me he could not remember a single instance of ever recommending denial of a mountaintop removal permit, regardless of public opposition.

    I suggest a new sign for Morgantown: “Welcome To Morgantown. Don’t Burn The Couches And Don’t Drink The Water.”

  5. Dave Fridley says:

    Of course they don’t want the public to know, because of the environmental risks involved including public health.
    Whoever is resonsible for this land tract management should be held fully resonsible for ANY negative impact that occurs.
    It has been proven over and over again, about the pollution and environmental inpact that these sites produce, but everything is covered up due to the money involvemen…AS ALWAYS.
    Maybe the politicians like Manchin and Rockerfeller should be required to open their stock portfolios and show how much of an invested interest that they have in these companies.

  6. Jack Asbury says:

    sad but true, if the candidates for governor are sincere about their concerns for citizens of W. Va., they ought to be all over this and make sure that safety is priority for us.

  7. Kathryn Wilcox says:

    Please name the politician running for governor who
    objects to Marcellus drilling without public notice, public meetings, or public comment period.

  8. Patchy says:

    The only problem with so-called public input is that the public who show up typically have swallowed Sierra Club propaganda hook line and sinker.

    It’s one thing to be naive enough to base one’s own views on an avowedly leftist organization’s manifesto but these people compound it by repeating it as fact.

  9. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Bob,

    You misquoted my post … I did not describe the regulations for the coal industry as “stringent.”

    The entire sentence says:

    “The lack of public involvement is in stark contrast to the regulations that govern many other industrial activities, and certainly quite less stringent than what the coal industry has to follow in West Virginia.”

    I explained that the rules governing notice for oil and gas permit applications that are pending at DEP is “certainly quite less stringent” than those the coal industry is required to follow.

    A new coal mining operation must publish a number of different public notices for a number of different permits processed by DEP. Oil and gas companies don’t have to publish any sort of general public notice at all.

    There’s no question that no notice at all is “less stringent” than a variety of notices (some of which have to be published more than once).

    While one can certainly argue about whether DEP pays attention to public in put generated by those mining permits, people who live near proposed oil and gas wells don’t even get the opportunity to know what’s coming to their communities before DEP approves the permit. This means no opportunity for a hearing, comment period, lawsuits, nothing.

    Ken.

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