Wetzel County Residents Face Drilling Concerns
WEST VIRGINIA PUBLIC BROADCASTING
August 18, 2009 · Gas and oil companies drilling in the Marcellus Shale have increased in the state over the past few years, especially in Wetzel County.
Although the boom is adding economic benefits to the state, it also is causing problems for many residents who live near these wells.
Ray Renaud and his wife Margie have lived in their country home on Friendship Ridge in northern Wetzel County for more than 30 years. The area around their quaint farm house has always been peaceful with little traffic.
But everything changed three years ago when oil and gas companies began moving in to drill for Marcellus shale.
The main issue is a matter of life and death. These trucks pose a significant hazard to the citizens and we have seen numerous accidents,” said Renaud.
"Part of the reason we haven’t had a fatality up to now because the activity has damaged the road to an extent that people have to slow down to avoid an accident.”
Renaud is a member of the Wetzel County Action Group. He has documented safety concerns by clocking traffic with his radar gun. He also has a scanner in his kitchen so he can go take pictures of accidents along the roadways.
His neighbor, Steve Conlon is also concerned about the roads.
“We have a bee farm... and we used to have four routes that we could bring people to our place and now we have one,” said Conlon.
“With all of the riches being taken out of the ground in Wetzel County there should be enough money to repair the damage.”
Chesapeake Energy is one of the companies drilling in the area. Officials say they have been listening to residents concerns.
Mike John, Vice President of Corporate Development said the company created a community advisory panel to address issues. Chesapeake has placed more escort vehicles in front of its tankers and trucks and has also increased communication with school bus drivers.
“We have been able to institute piloting of large trucks and school buses and will have spent likely up to $1.8 million repairing two roads,” said John.
“If we impact the roads we will put them back in a condition that is at least as good or even better as the condition of the road that we found.”
The impacts of drilling aren’t all negative in Wetzel County. Motels are booked well in advance, and local restaurants are busy.
The County Commission expects to see oil and gas severance tax revenues increase this year by 15 to 20 percent.
“With additional tax revenues and copy revenues we will be able to fund other local outside agencies like our public libraries, ambulance authority and local emergency medical services,” said commissioner Scott Lemley.
Some residents are benefiting as well from royalties and leasing agreements. But not every landowner in the county owns mineral rights.
According to David McMahon, co-founder of the WV Surface Owner’s Rights Organization, many residents are being taken advantage of by companies.
“The only notice that surface owner is required by law to get to get when there is going to be someone come and bulldoze a road or well site on their land is that they get 15 days notice for the application of the well permit when the drilling company files with DEP,” said McMahon.
West Virginia is rich in oil and gas, but poor in its number of oil and gas regulators.
There are 50,000 active oil and gas wells in West Virginia but only 16 state inspectors.
The WV Surface Owners Rights Organization is trying to get a bill passed in the legislature to help protect landowners.
‘We want the driller to show the surface owner their plans before they go to file the permit and send out the surveyor. We want some incentives for the driller to negotiate with the surface owner and come up with a written agreement something in writing,” said McMahon.
“Most residents are also worried about environmental and land quality concerns,” said Renaud.
The Wetzel County Commission is asking the Department of Transportation and state lawmakers to help repair some of the damaged roads along drilling areas.
McMahon expects the Surface Owner’s Bill of Rights to be reintroduced during the next legislative session. Lawmakers have rejected it twice in the past two years.
Why's that? Who do the lawmakers represent?