FrackTracker and WV Host Farms Confer in WV Gas Field

by Duane Nichols on October 1, 2013

FrackTracker and WV Host Farms Confer in WV Gas Field

Article by S. Tom Bond, Resident Farmer, Lewis County, September 29, 2013
FrackTracker sent a small group to meet with West Virginia Host Farms the 26th of September.  Most people who study fracking know about FrackTracker through it’s maps which show newly permitted wells and know about Host Farms from it’s program which allows scientists and other visitors to have access to points of interest through landowners and providing meals and lodging for them.
The groups met in West Union for lunch and then toured a well site, a pipeline laying location, and a large and growing compressor station.  Extensive discussion of “after-the-fact” permits and “negotiated settlements” of fines for infractions of law and regulations occupied a large part of the lunch period.  There is a great contrast between the way corporations and individuals are treated.
There is immediate concern for a gas well drilled sometime back near the high school.  It uses the school driveway and is within easy walking distance of the school.  Vapors from the well could easily reach the high school, accidents could occur with busses and cars driven by students, and it would contribute to discipline problems.  This gas well is a vertical well, but suppose they decide to drill Marcellus wells from the same pad.  It seems likely the well was drilled to establish a precedent.
Other considerations discussed were careless flairing, changing creeks without Army Corps of Engineers permission, fracking tanks not surrounded by earth embankments, “grandfathered” wells on old pads, endless water complaints.    These included loss of water in wells, contamination, and companies supplying water for a while, and then abandoning the complainant.  Also, various discrepancies between what land men claim is the law and what the law actually is.  Two of these are claims that public road 30 foot rights-of-way can be widened by condemnation, and that the company can condemn land for a compressor station.  Both are false claims.
One of the sites visited was a gas well in the process of the deeper vertical drilling. It involved air drilling down to some depth, then this larger drill, and finally a smaller rotary rig for the horizontal part to complete the well.  Each time the drill is changed, all the attendant equipment is removed before the next stage.  Two large impoundments were in sight, one for fresh water, one for drilling fluids.  The landowner had several groups at this site before and relations were quite cordial.  One of the biggest complaints here was that the gas well site, access road and pipeline right-of-way occupied a measured 37 acres of her 80 acre property.  As usual, the timber on the property was wasted.  Here it is common practice to deny compensation for damage (presumably since it is regrowth forest) and to give the surface owner $1500 for “compensation for taxes.”  The surface owners are ripped off for production of the property far beyond one lifetime, and must continue to pay the same tax as before drilling, forever, so $1500.  This is another example of the (deliberate?) insensitivity of drillers to passage of time.
A second location visited was Robinson Ridge, where pipeline laying was in progress.  Robinson Ridge was, in pioneer times, a main route through Doddridge county.  A well-kept cemetery, dating to Civil War times, is right on the ridge.  The pipeline was to follow the ridge, but had to deviate to miss the cemetery and the public road by it, putting it on a very steep bank.  Issues here were inferior pipe of Chinese manufacture, welders less well qualified than West Virginia union welders, absence of remotely controlled valves to contain the gas in case of fire, the difficulty of fighting fires in case of leak or rupture in remote steep places.  The lack of trained fire fighters and appropriate equipment for large gas fires is a problem at all sites.
The other site visited was the new Mark West compressor and liquids removal plant off Morgan’s Run, within sight of Rt. 50.  The author remembers this as one of the best farms in Doddridge County in his youth.  Recently it has been seen more of a site for investment, because it is one of the largest pieces of contiguous flat land in the county.  Much of it is within the 100 year flood plane, which seems to have been ignored.  It now contains two well pads and the compressor station, which is being expanded rapidly.   (Drilling was in progress across the valley on the pad near the hillside.)
There are quite a number of interesting things to be seen here.  Access is by public ownership of the old Rails to Trails right-of-way.  Visitors were quite unwelcome originally, but people are entitled to walk it, just like any other section of the Rails-to-Trails path.  Mark West has paved it through their domain, whereas it is gravel most of the way from Parkersburg to Clarksburg.
The expanding plant is built in a cove, and a small mountain is being leveled to keep it at a higher elevation.  One can see a large crane used in the construction. The liquid product is being piped down near the rail trail to load it into liquid petroleum product trucks.  These are trailer trucks which have huge tanks with characteristic rounded ends, and thus are easily recognizable.  They are supposed to have the 1075 hazardous material signs displayed, which also helps recognition.  About a dozen were lined up for filling at a small building near the road.  Several different companies appear to be employed to haul the liquids.
These trucks can be considered as bombs.  The shape of the trailers is a design to use the least metal to surround the liquid which is only about 75% as dense as water, and to keep it under pressure.  Low density accounts for the very large size.  The design of some of them involved pipes sticking down from the middle of the trailer, so that running over a bank would drag them off, allowing the liquid to escape.  We speculated about what would happen if the drivers understood the hazard they were putting themselves into.
In several places we saw pipelines being laid up over a hill at angles far in excess of 45 degrees. A huge one is just east of the Mark West installation.  You have to wonder how these labor heros do it, and how they expect to keep any soil cover over the pipes when they are in place.
FrackTrcker is a coalition of about 175 groups which is dedicated to enhancing the public’s knowledge of the global impacts of the oil and gas industry. They have a map of new wells worldwide and a vast trove of information.  The visiting team consisted of four individuals with different areas of expertise.  It was lead by  Brook Lenker, the Executive Director.  The internet site is here.
West Virginia Host Farms is a coalition of landowners who are affected or interested in the problems of the natural gas industrialization of a once pristine rural area.  They are able to let scientists and others interested in slick water hydraulic fracturing to view sites they want to study, because the landowner has the right to go on his/her land near the drilling and take visitors. These areas is remote, so they also provide free accommodations and meals.  The internet site is here.

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