Visitors from Athens (Ohio) Report on Fracking in Wetzel County, WV

by Duane Nichols on January 31, 2012

Residents from Athens County in southeastern Ohio have visited Wetzel County in West Virginia to get a first-hand understanding of the issues involving deep drilling and fracking for natural gas.  They witnessed the drilling equipment, gas wells and pipelines across the cleared muddy landscape just a few miles into the hills from the Ohio River.

Councilwoman Michele Papai, D-3rd Ward, Ann Brown and Al Blazevicius presented what they saw during their January 9th visit in a report at the Athens County Commissioners meeting.  The group shared its observations on the effects of hydraulic fracturing sites run primarily by Chesapeake Energy, one of the oil-and-gas corporations purchasing mineral rights leases in Athens County.

These community leaders urged the commissioners to begin a strategic planning process to develop a proactive approach to “fracking” in the county. “We need to encourage citizens to know what’s going on and pull in all facets of the issue,” Councilwoman Michelle Papai said. “We cannot be fragmented, and we look to our leaders to push for that.” Papai said the interest in creating a strategic committee is huge and could lead to interaction and collaboration between city officials, county officials and citizens. Though she said she understands many of the concerns about fracking are regulated by the state, Papai added that a local push for a change is just as important.

Commissioner Larry Payne said many opponents of fracking have approached him about creating regulations about air, water and land pollution, but it is not the county’s jurisdiction because of state and federal law. “As much as we would like to be able to help in every way, we have to work on what we are allowed to work on,” Payne said.

Along with many of the negative environmental effects — such as chemical spillage and air, water and land pollution — Ann Brown said deteriorating roads and changes in the quality of life were evident in Wetzel. Numerous Wetzel residents reported day-to-day problems with traffic and road safety. On its tour, the group witnessed a truck accident caused by a road giving out because of soil erosion.

Payne said the commissioners have been and will continue to be proactive regarding the safety of the county, adding that two committees have been formed to create emergency action plans and better communication between all safety providers. Payne also said a road use agreement is being drafted by the commissioners that will require companies to maintain and fix all roads they use during their time in the county. 

Commissioner Lenny Eliason said that along with letting the public know more about the committees, writing to state and federal officials is also highly encouraged. “I know many people from Athens have protested against fracking and letting your voice be heard on the state level is an important part of this,” Eliason said.

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