Natural gas: A blessing or a curse to West Virginia? (concl.)

Posted on behalf of Stewart Bell, PLLC on Apr 29, 2011 in Wrongful Death

In our last post, we reviewed the legislative findings underpinning the recently enacted Marcellus Gas and Manufacturing Development Act. The Legislature clearly states its enthusiasm for the advancement of the natural gas industry in West Virginia, citing the new jobs and business opportunities that come with its development. At the same time, consumer advocates and environmental organizations are warning state leaders about the risks to workers, the public and the state's natural resources.

One state legislator said that natural gas could do for West Virginia in the 2010s what oil did for Alaska in the 1980s. Landholders could collect up to $3,000 per acre from natural gas leases; royalties could run from 12 percent to 18 percent. If things work out here as they did in Alaska, every citizen of the Mountain State would receive a check from gas proceeds.

It's the appeal of quick cash that has others concerned that the state's moving too fast. Fresh air and clean water are a lot to sacrifice for an economic boon.

The threat to the water supply comes mostly from fracking. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, entails the high-pressure injection of fluid into the rock above a gas or oil field. The rock fractures, and the gas or oil is released. Proponents say that the fractured rock is so deep, so far underground that breaking it up poses little risk to the layers above and below it.

But the fluid pumped in comes back out. Drillers are left with water treated with chemicals to aid in fracking and, on its return, full of toxins, heavy metals and even radioactive materials. Just in the past few weeks, used water has escaped its containment receptacles and, as water does, made its way toward freshwater sources. A recent documentary focused on a community near a drill site where the drinking water was on fire.

The processes for recycling the used water are in the early stages of development. Disposing of the water is often likened to disposing of nuclear waste. There's no safe place for it, say some critics.

During legislative hearings on the Marcellus Act, lawmakers asserted their commitment to "doing it right." Their priority is to make sure communities aren't harmed by the drilling.

West Virginians are knitting their brows, though, as they read stories about explosions near sites in other states on the Marcellus shale. These coal-savvy communities know the money that comes from tapping into natural resources. But in the back of their minds are three words: Upper Big Branch.


Huntington, "Projected State Economic Boon not Without Environmental Risks," Tony Rutherford

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