WV Surface Owners Express Significant Concerns at Meeting

by S. Tom Bond on August 25, 2014

Industrialization of Rural WV

WV Surface Owners’ Rights Organization Meets in Harrison County

Meeting Summary by Julie Archer and  Tom Bond, August 25, 2014

The WV Surface Owners’ Rights Organization (WV-SORO) held a membership meeting at Salem International University in Salem, WV on Saturday, August 23rd.  The purpose was to enlist new members, educate members and their guests about issues related to gas drilling and to discuss problems members face.  About 70 were present.

After an Introduction by Julie Archer, the first feature was a Panel on Pipelines.  The three presenters were Nils Nichols of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC);  Joseph Cochran of the Division of Water and Waste Management, West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP): and Ed Wade of Wetzel County Action Group (WCAG).

Mr. Nichols is Director of the Division on Pipeline Regulation.  He said there are three recognized components of the gas production industry; (i). Production;  (ii). Transmission takes the gas from the line the producer puts it in, to the company that sells it to the customer; and (iii). Distributors take it from the large volume gas transmission company to the customer, which may be an industry, a gas-fired electrical generator or a homeowner.  FERC is mostly concerned with transmission pipelines, which are relatively large diameter lines.

The steps FERC uses are:  1. Determine there is a need.  2. Determine alternate routes and then hold “scoping” meetings to determine reaction.  3. Interpret findings to determine what best meets public interest.  4.  Public meetings and review of voluntary easements to minimize eminent domain.  5. Final Certification.  Once FERC approves the project, if agreements cannot be negotiated with landowners, the company may acquire an easement using eminent domain with a court determining compensation. He indicated compensation is based on fair market value, but “you have to fight for your rights.”

Mr. Cochran said DEP mostly permits smaller short lines of 1 to 3 miles from the well pad to the midstream line.  When the application arrives in the office with all the details on the form filled in and if it looks like it will work on paper, the permit is granted.  Most of their concern is with new pipelines.  Both men indicated that once a proposed pipeline is determined to be able to do its job, it goes through and is seldom rejected.

Ed Wade of the Wetzel County Action Group showed pictures of what has happened on pipelines, mostly in Wetzel County.  They included drill dust and dust after dynamite blasts in a creek, numerous slips in back fill where a pipeline goes up a hill, including one that ruptured the gas line.  Also use of concrete to support pipelines on extremely steep hills, animals in the ditch due to fragmentation of the animal’s habitat,  putting a new line on an old right of way, silt, air pollution from a pipeline site, an accidentally burned excavator and open burning.  The pipeline brings pig launchers, compressor stations, access roads, noise, odors, lights and toward the end of its life, leaked gas, and danger of fire and explosion.

After the presentations there was a Question and Answer Session moderated by Dave McMahon.  Some of the questions were:

Will drilling increase the cost of my homeowner’s liability insurance?

What can you do to keep trespassers out after the drilling is done and the pipeline is laid?

What is the nature of the impairment on my property due to a pipeline?

If someone comes on my property, is it trespassing?  (The answer to this one is, “No, you must tell them to stay out or build a fence around it, or cultivate the ground, or post the land.)

After lunch, each person introduced him or herself and many stated the problem that brought them to SORO.  Complaints heard were: issues with leasing – three pipelines on her land by three different companies – prevented from getting to work – very little help from DEP with coal and gas – quality of life – they are getting to the intimidation stage with me, they said they were going to send out the bad guys – floodplain issues – they told me to work with the driller, not the circuit court – they told me when the drilling is done the effect is over – there is no effect unless it can be measured.

Organizations represented were Wetzel County Action Group, Guardians of the West Fork, WV Host Farms, FrackCheckWV, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Doddridge County Watershed Association, Friends of the Hughes, Middle Island Conservation Group, WV Chapter of the Sierra Club and WV Highlands Conservancy.

There was an Overview of SORO history and activities by Julie Archer.  Next was a section titled Results and Recommendations from Horizontal Well Act Studies.  It was a presentation by David Mahon about research mandated by the Horizontal Well Control Act the legislature passed in 2011.

One of the studies, by Dr. Michael McCawley at WVU looked at noise, light dust and other air pollution as they relate to how close wells can be to peoples’ homes. The report cited research that showed an increased risk of cancer for residents within one-half mile of a drilling operation.  Another study showed property values were affected if a well was within 1,500 feet in Texas.  A sociology research project conducted by WVU showed that landowners reported twice as many problems if they were within 1,500 feet.

Dr. McCawley’s research showed that noise, light, dust and other air pollution was not confined to the well site.  In response, DEP recommended that the legislature increase the setback distance “to provide for a more consistent and protective safe guard for residence in effective areas.” However, the DEP declined to propose any new rules based on the studies because it said “there were no indication of a public health emergency or threat” – a far more stringent standard than is reasonable for the public protection.

Pit studies showed inspectors only targeted readily apparent problems such as slips and slides, while not recognizing indicators or warning signs that might result in pit failures. Eight out of the fifteen pits studies didn’t agree with the engineers plans, and only one of the fifteen had soil conforming to the type specified by the DEP.  One concluded companies can’t be trusted.

After a break there was a section titled Moving Forward/Setting Priorities, which involved group discussions.  The following questions were asked to frame the discussion: What are the most pressing problems related to oil and gas drilling in West Virginia? What should be done to address the problems?  What should SORO do in response to these problems? The facilitator was Gary Zuckett.

Problems indentified included air pollution, water contamination, water use, improper waste disposal, truck traffic and damage to roads.  Lack of enforcement and lack of accountability with respect to industry activities and practices, permitting decisions made by the DEP and actions taken by the legislature were also major concerns. Suggested actions that should be taken to these problems included making changes to drilling laws, regulations and enforcement; engaging more citizens in pushing for better regulation and funding for enforcement; and documenting health impacts and environmental problems to help make the case for stronger regulations. Actions SORO could take in response to these issues included public education efforts to get more people involved; continued lobbying and being a voice for landowners at the legislature; continuing to explore litigation options and file lawsuits; and providing input, assisting and working with those documenting health impacts.

After the discussion, there was a Wrap-Up and Evaluation session, then dinner.  The evening session was a showing of the documentary film “Triple Divide” and a discussion of it.     [To contact WV-SORO: 304-346-5891, julie@wvsoro.org, www.wvsoro.org ]

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

S. Thomas Bond August 30, 2014 at 3:36 pm

A friend who was present has written to remind me of something the FERC representative said: Once a permit application for a PIPELINE is submitted to them, almost every request is granted. We both think this should be included in the report.


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