WV Host Farms Program Connects Residents & Researchers

by Duane Nichols on September 2, 2012

Sampling Well Water

The following account is condensed from an article by Pam Kasey in the State Journal dated August 28th:

Tom Darrah visited Doddridge County recently for water quality sampling, which  he did with efficiency because of the WV Host Farms Program. “We’re hitting the ground running,” he said. A Duke University geologist, his team is studying the environmental effects of Marcellus Shale development on well water.

For field work he’s conducting in Pennsylvania, Darrah said it has taken two years of diligent work to develop a network there. But before visiting Doddridge County, he connected with the West Virginia Host Farms Program, “a partnership program linking West Virginia landowners with the environmental community who study the impact of Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling.”

Doddridge County resident and Host Farms program organizer Diane Pitcock wanted to make it easy for researchers, journalists and policymakers to talk with residents and conduct sampling ahead of and during the coming wave of drilling. “Almost all of the Marcellus research studies I managed to find in West Virginia were focused on the economy, not at all on the other issues that Marcellus drilling affects such as landowners’ rights, exposure to fracking chemicals, air quality, noise and dust pollution, water quality and drinking well contamination,” Pitcock said.

“With about 300 Marcellus wells being planned for our region, many in my own county, I saw a great opportunity to promote more environmental research opportunities by way of landowners who are willing to provide the locations for study,” she said. Started last winter, the program now consists of about two dozen committed host farms and another 200 peripherally involved “followers” — contacts in a 12-county area where residents offer information, access to their properties and even a place to stay.

The program gives participants a chance to tell their stories and to learn from independent researchers. For researchers and journalists, the program is an opportunity to understand the on-the-ground details of gas activity. Tom Darrah, for example, plans to test drinking water at 200 to 300 pre-drill sites in the region by the end of September, about 150 of them in Doddridge County.

“We see people with leases, people without leases, people who are pro and against,” he said. “This lets us develop a baseline monitoring set based on the most appropriate places to get samples, not just on people who pick up the phone.”  Darrah also will conduct post-drill testing, including some very specialized testing, and will share his results with participants — results of tests that, locally, would cost residents $350 to $1,000.

In addition to Darrah, others hosted by program participants so far have included researchers from Yale University and journalists from San Francisco and Germany. More visits are in planning.

“Hopefully, we can glean valuable information through the research that comes out of the program,” Pitcock said. “The attention that the host farm researchers will bring to current environmental conditions in West Virginia should help our situation and bring in more jobs along the way — I believe more environmental research in West Virginia will lead to more jobs if the drilling is done right.”

Visit the West Virginia Host Farms Program online at www.wvhostfarms.org

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