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Amendment will address well placement
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by David Beard, The Dominion Post | 2011

This article first appeared in The Dominion Post on Sunday, Oct 9, 2011, and is reprinted here with permission.

'There’s just no escape’

Casey and Stacie Griffith built their dream home at the back of a Marion County hollow in 2005.

In 2009, their hollow turned into an industrial zone. On the hill next to and just above their home is a Marcellus well pad permitted for six wells. At the front edge of their yard on what once was field, is a freshwater impoundment and what will be a graveled staging area for heavy equipment.

“There’s just no escape,” Stacie said. “You just can’t stand to view it every day. It’s every day, it’s all day, it’s every conversation, it’s every phone call, it’s every picture, it’s every videotape. It just consumes you.”

The Legislature’s Joint Select Committee on Marcellus Shale is preparing to meet twice this week during interims. An amendment it will debate is well spacing. The amendment proposes, among other things, that no well pad be located within 1,000 feet of an occupied dwelling.

The Griffiths’ story illustrates why this is being debated.

State code now requires wells — not pads — to be 200 feet from dwellings. The one completed well on the pad above the Griffiths — called the Donna pad for the landowner who recently sold the site to Waco — meets that requirement. But some rough work with a tape measurer — what could be accomplished without trespassing — suggests the pad’s edge is closer to 100 feet from the Griffiths’ home.

Stacie Griffith: ‘This is all I get done’

Sometimes, the traffic and noise and construction carry on from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Other times, it’s 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. When drilling begins shortly, it will be 24/7 as Waco Oil & Gas drills a number of vertical holes. Then there will be a short break, as bigger equipment comes in to drill the horizontal legs.

Every day, Stacie, a middle school physical-education teacher, hoses the dust off their porch. Every day, they meet Marcellus rigs on the road that’s not quite two lanes wide. Although the  company rigs are supposed to yield, they often don’t. So the Griffiths have to stop or pull off into the ditch or back up hundreds of feet to a wide spot.

One recent day, a rig refused to move over and destroyed the $450 mirror on Stacie’s pickup. She showed a letter from Waco’s insurance company refusing to pay for the damages. They are  thankful that Waco’s partner in the operation, Charleston-based Energy Corporation of America, has agreed to replace the mirror.

“All of this has consumed our life,” Stacie said. “This is all we talk about.” She points to an album full of photo CDs, more albums full of prints and a video camera. “This is all I get done, and this is all I get done.

“There’s never a bird,” she said. “You don’t hear birds.”

She and Casey talk about their daughter getting worn down and sick from lost sleep. The public road by their house gets blocked by trucks and equipment, meaning it would be hard for them to  leave in an emergency, or for emergency vehicles to get in. They won’t have their daughter’s third birthday party at their house, because no one will be able to get in.

Some weekends, they just pack up and leave to get away.

The Griffiths’ signed a mineral lease with Waco in order to recoup some of the financial losses they suffered — including a $2,000 artificial pond that kept filling with well pad runoff.

Waco crews recently broke their water line, for the second time. Waco called and advised them to blow out their lines, but Stacie said there’s probably mud in their water heater, which they’ll have to replace — at their own expense.

According to Department of Environmental Protection records, Waco has one completed well on the pad and permits for five more. The Dominion Post called Waco on Friday to get details on its plans but Waco’s land department manager referred all questions to the company vice president or operations manager, who were both out of the office.

Lawmakers look to tweak bill

The Marcellus Committee is working to amend a draft regulatory bill, based on failed Senate Bill 424, in preparation for a possible special session in November. This amendment, presented by the five House members, also deals with well pad distances from water wells and springs, and livestock shelters.

Some members have suggested a shorter distance, maybe 700 feet. The Griffiths would prefer a mile. Casey admits that’s not realistic. But he suggests contacting gas industry executives and seeing how many have wells 200 feet from their doors. The word “unreasonable” crops up several times.

“I challenge any of them to come to my home during active operations and look me straight in the face and say, ‘Yeah, it’s OK,’ “ he said. “If you’re going to put your child down for a nap, or bedtime, 200 feet is so unreasonable.”

Multiacre, multi-well Marcellus operations are the same as the old, small-footprint vertical wells that also dot the Plum Run area.

“This has been going on for 2 1/2 years. It’s a whole different beast,” Casey said. “It has to be a minimum of 1,000 feet. This is just unreasonable. One thousand feet is by no means unreasonable on either side.”

Rick Humphreys, the Griffiths’ friend, neighbor and distant relative by marriage, is part of the conversation. His home sits farther up the road, and just 30 feet off the road. Every day, he hears the rigs’ jake brakes as they pass.

When he retired from the Army — as a lieutenant colonel — he had a choice of settling here or on 60 acres he owns near Clarksburg. He picked here. “I did it for the ambience.”

Now he wonders why. But he won’t move. People always ask him about moving, he said.

“ ‘If you don’t like it so much, why don’t you move,’ “ they ask. “Why should I have to move? I was here first. It belongs to me.”

Humphreys fumes over the state of property rights. West Virginia’s surface rights are severed from the mineral rights, and mineral owners are allowed reasonable access to the surface owner’s land to develop their minerals.

“A police officer can’t enter your home without a warrant, but a company can drive through your yard with impunity,” he said. Of course, the companies are just doing what’s legal. “I’m more angry at the politicians who are responsible to do something and won’t. ... We shouldn’t have to suffer like this, to live in a place we worked for and bought.”

Barring some pressing health concern that could arise, Stacie and Casey don’t want to move, either.

Stacie said: “There’s sentimental value here. We’d never be able to replace it.”

Casey said: “People don’t understand the sentimental value. It’s not going to happen.”

Stacie said: “How do you put a value on sentimental things? I don’t want to put a value on it. I don’t want to sell it.”

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