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Chapter Launches Marcellus Shale Campaign
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by Beth Little, WVSC Marcellus Shale Committee | 2011

Clean water is West Virginia’s most precious natural resource

Protecting our water is the basis of the campaign the Chapter has launched to deal with the gaping holes in regulation on Marcellus shale deep gas wells. In addition, issues of clean air, road traffic and safety, NORMs (naturally occurring radioactive materials), and other threats have become apparent as this industrial development expands in West Virginia. Our purpose is to supply West Virginia’s landowners with the tools to protect them from the vast potential dangers of Marcellus shale drilling, ranging from waterways being sucked dry to first responders being poisoned by unknown chemicals. Our website at www.frackcheckwv.net provides more detailed information.

Regulations enforceable by law are either directly entered in the WV Code through legislation passed by the state Legislature or through Rules drawn up by the Department of  Environmental Protection (DEP) and approved by the Legislature. Either way, our state Senators and Representatives are the ones responsible for the laws that protect our water, air and health.

Our legislators are heavily lobbied by industry — the gas industry currently employs at least 22 lobbyists, not counting those for coal and chemical companies, who have similar interests. It takes a massive public effort to get our lawmakers to pay attention to the people instead of industry lobbyists. Since we can’t afford to hire an army of highly paid lobbyists, our best tool is to educate voters who can influence elections.

Last year, a couple of bills were introduced to correct some of the shortfalls in gas drilling regulations. One bill, introduced by Delegate Tim Manchin, was passed with only eight dissenting votes in the House but was weakened in the Senate and died in conference (the process of reconciling House and Senate versions). The others didn’t make it out of committee. The WV Environmental Council lobbyists (all four of them) devoted energy to these bills, along with working on a host of other legislative issues, but there was not enough public input to demonstrate strong support.

This year, we have hired an outreach organizer, Chuck Wyrostok — wyro@appalight.com  — to help get the message out and offer assistance to those already concerned with what/when/how they can help. We are collaborating with other groups, sharing our concerns, and making presentations to interested groups. Our legislative agenda can be found on our website, www.frackcheckwv.net , which also provides a way to contact your legislators directly (see “this simple form” under Take Action).

The idea is to build a block of voters who will press their county commissioners, their legislators and the WV DEP to enact sensible regulation on the water, land and air issues caused by Marcellus drilling. No one should feel alone or powerless, or unduly pressured by drillers. We need to educate ourselves and our neighbors and turn that knowledge to power.

Many of us have lived on our land for decades, using water wells for drinking, washing, cooking ... life’s essentials.  Yes, we need jobs and prosperity, but without clean water, we can’t live here.

There is much you can do. Talk to your neighbors and County Commissioners. Call your legislators toll-free (877-565-3447). Learn your rights at www.wvsoro.org . Go to our website at www.frackcheckwv.net or reach us toll-free at 877-252-0257.

There are already a couple of bills in draft mode — one from the DEP and another from a subcommittee of the Joint House and Senate Judiciary. The bills are long and we are still studying them; plus, they will probably be amended during the legislative process. And, there will be other bills. We will attempt to keep you updated with alerts and postings on our website so you will know when your call, letter, or email is needed. There will also be public hearings: good attendance is invaluable for demonstrating public concern. Hearings are scheduled on short notice, but if you can come to Charleston, your presence would be extremely helpful.

If you can do nothing else, try to come to the Capitol for E-Day on February 9. We will have an orientation program and guides to help you find your legislators.

Here is a brief summary of the main issues that need to be addressed:

Water withdrawals
Currently there is nothing stopping a company from draining our streams dry, and it is happening. The current voluntary program would not be effective even if followed. The gauges showing stream flow are too far downstream to provide guidance about headwater streams, and nothing tells a driller how many other drillers are also withdrawing.

We need a mandatory permit process for industrial water withdrawals in small streams and headwaters. Draining our streams, particularly during traditionally dry seasons, is bad for citizens, tourism, recreation, fishing, aquatic life and the overall health of our waterways.

Water Quality Standards
WV has no standard for Total Dissolved Solids (TDS), which are mineral salts. They make the water taste bad and cause both home and industrial equipment to collect deposits and malfunction. High TDS were implicated in the Dunkard Creek golden algae bloom that killed everything — fish and mussels — for 30 miles. DEP is proposing a statewide water quality standard for TDS of 500mg/l measured in-stream. This is stronger than Pennsylvania’s standard of 500mg/l measured only at public water supply in-takes. However, it is still twice as high as the 250mg/l that EPA recommends as the Human Health Standard for total dissolved solids. In addition, DEP fails to propose in this rule an aquatic life standard for conductivity, with which TDS levels are closely associated.

DEP should adopt the federal standard for human health of 250mg/l, and DEP should adopt an aquatic life criterion for TDS and conductivity as proposed by EPA.

Drilling wastes
There are three kinds of wastewater from drilling, in addtion to the solids (mud and cuttings from the earth and rock). They are drilling brine; fracking fluids — used under high pressure to crack open the shale, and exempt from regulation by the EPA under the Clean Water Act; and produced water — largely made up of fracking fluids at first but continuing to flow during gas production.

Wastewater contaminants include toxins from the earth, such as NORMs (naturally occurring radioactive materials), and chemicals in the fracking fluids, such as benzene, toluene and barium, all of which cause cancer, birth defects, and other health problems. Fracking fluids can be treated and reused to minimize water withdrawals, but eventually disposal of all these forms of wastewater, and the solids that settle out, must occur. Current legal practices of spraying on the land and burying pits on site are a danger to our streams and groundwater.

We need regulations that require a closed loop (tank to well to tank) for fracking fluids and removal of all wastewater and solid residue, including pit liners, to authorized hazardous waste facilities.

Accidents
Inevitably, there will be spills, leaks and explosions. We need all gas wells to have an emergency plan that includes immediate notification of emergency services, the health department, downstream water supply facilities and residents, in addtion to the oil and gas inspectors.

We also need public disclosure prior to drilling, not after the accident, of all chemicals being used, so that medical and other emergency first responders know how to treat the injured and handle the cleanup.

Enforcement
There are more than 45,000 active gas wells in West Virginia. The number of well work-permits issued varies from 900 to 3,000 each year (which is projected to increase dramatically with Marcellus shale drilling).

The drilling of new wells requires several visits by an inspector, and each active well should be inspected at least once annually. Yet, WV has a total of only 17 inspectors. New inspectors must be approved by an examination board of industry representatives and must have at least six years experience in the gas industry.

The DEP needs a hiring process free from conflicts of interest and the funding to hire more inspectors.

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