Marcellus Shale drilling discussed by county planners
At the June 28 Planning Commission meeting, President Jack Soronen encouraged any planning board members who are interested in Marcellus shale natural gas drilling to contact County Commissioner Brenda Hutchinson about being placed on the Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Advisory Committee being formed.
A discussion followed about the dangers and benefits of drilling for natural gas using hydraulic-fracturing or “fracking” of shale to release natural gas.
Fracking is a controversial process of drilling to depths below the water table where the shale is layered and fracturing the shale with a solution of water, toxic chemicals and sand pumped down the well under high pressure.
The resulting “fracks” or cracks in the shale are held open by the sand particles allowing gas to be released.
“It is a subject that is evolving every day,” Soronen said.
He then asked for comments from planning commission members.
Carl Cowgill said he had read that over 3,300 wells have been drilled in Pennsylvania.
“Pennsylvania has really been hit big by it,” he said.
Cowgill said one farm in Hampshire County has been leased to a gas company but no drilling has been done yet.
County Planner Alma Gorse said Morgantown has banned drilling within the town including a mile perimeter around the town. She said a suit was filed a couple of days after the town council took that action.
Attorney Larry Schultz, attending the meeting, said he has worked in the oil industry and worked on a frack truck.
“They have found ways of doing it better, but it hasn’t really changed,” Schultz said about hydraulic fracturing technology. “You get the biggest pump you can find and you pump the water as hard as you can,” he said.
Call for regulation
“What I am reading now is sportsmen’s groups in Pennsylvania, Trout Unlimited, Ducks Unlimited and other sportsmen’s groups have formed a giant alliance and they are asking for more regulation,” Schultz said. He noted Pennsylvania doubled their number of oil and gas inspectors last year.
“I don’t think that will happen in West Virginia, and that scares me,” Schultz said.
Concerned about water
Jim Hoyt said he was worried about the water supply. He read that one of the gas wells in Pennsylvania developed a problem which contaminated a nearby city’s water supply.
“Imagine that happening in Paw Paw or Berkeley Springs where people come for the water,” Hoyt said. “Is there some way we can protect our water resources and will the state allow us to do that?” he said.
“Each one of those wells is in fact an industrial site. They have waste water ponds, they have fresh water ponds and when they are not trucking the water in they are sucking it out of a creek, and that means the creek goes dry. It takes three million gallons of water on average to frack one well,” Shultz said.
“The geology of it is they pump it in there and only about 15% of it comes back,” he said.
Shultz said the drilling takes place well below the water table and it is rare that fracking waste water seeps into the water supply, but it can happen if the well casing breaks.
“From what I am reading, the worst thing is the above ground spills,” Schultz said.
Water on fire
Sue Parker brought up the potential problem of methane gas. Once the shale has been fractured the methane is not contained and can get into the water supply, she said.
“There have been occasions when dissolved methane gas has leaked into the water and people can light their well water as it is coming out of the tap,” Schultz said.
Natural gas economics
Shultz went on to say this is the largest on shore reserve of natural gas in the world:
“Maybe 10 trillion cubic feet of gas and it will change the economics of energy in this entire region of the country, but that isn’t going to be much help to us if our water is poisoned.”
Hoyt said, “These commodities markets are not regulated. Anybody can buy into them, anybody can short sell them. Wall Street is going to do with the gas commodities just like they have done with the oil commodities.”
Shultz said underneath the Marcellus Shale is a larger formation of shale called Utica Shale with a larger deposit of gas.
“This is going to be the rest of our lives. These gas wells will be around. This isn’t something that’s going to be over in 10 years,” Schultz said.
“We have the technology to do it, but it is a little bit scary,” Cowgill said.
Jerry Berman, attending the meeting, said we need to look beyond Morgan County. He wondered what could be done if drilling in Hampshire County affected the water in the Cacapon River. He suggested looking at the issue from a more regional perspective.
The other side
“It’s a very serious issue and if it can be controlled, let’s hope America doesn’t throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water,” Wayne Omps said. He said it is tough to tell someone who hasn’t had a job in two years you can’t work.
Omps said 99 out of 100 towns in Pennsylvania are happy to have the jobs:
“They are paying their mortgages, they are buying food for their kids and they are sending them to school. And yes occasionally you have a spill, absolutely, but I hope we don’t get to being a country that shuts off everything because there are a small, small percentage of problems,” Omps said.
Amy Lane pointed to a Time article that asserted the reported problems with the gas wells were not typical.
“If it is properly regulated and inspected, it can probably be done safely,” she said, quoting the article.
Wrapping up the discussion, Soronen said, “Definitely this is a very serious topic and we will take that under advisement as we move forward.”