Bids Opening For Drilling Rights Under Ohio River in Northern WV September 26th

by Duane Nichols on September 23, 2014

Concern Continues for Deep Drilling under Three Counties on Ohio River

From an Article by Casey Junkins, Wheeling Intelligencer, September 21, 2014

MOUNDSVILLE – A plan to extract natural gas from under the Ohio River is receiving mixed reviews from county commissioners. State officials are set to open proposals for river drilling on Friday. Marshall County commissioners are giving the project a thumbs-up, while Pleasants County Commissioner Larry Barnhart has concerns. Leading the uncertainty for Barnhart is a lack of communication from the state.

“The first that anyone here saw of this was in the newspaper,” Barnhart said of an August 22 report in The Intelligencer detailing the plan to drill under the Ohio River. “You would think they would at least let the county commissioners know they are going to do this. We need them to explain this to us.”

The West Virginia Department of Commerce received bids through September 11th. Spokeswoman Chelsea Ruby said the office has “received numerous inquiries” about the drilling opportunity, but said she could not be more specific until after the bid opening at 1 p.m. Friday.

As for concerns with drilling under the region’s primary drinking water supply, Corky Demarco, executive director of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, said contractors can drill more than a mile deep before turning the bit horizontally to reach the oil and natural gas beneath the river. The producer can also establish its drilling pad more than a mile away from the target because of the length of the horizontal wells. “It has been done before. I don’t see how it would be a problem,” he said.

Marshall County Commissioners Bob Miller, Don Mason and Brian Schambach agree. “I think a tanker truck filled with fluids is more likely to wreck into the river to contaminate it than anything coming up from fracking,” Miller said. “It is over a mile down there, so I don’t really see it being a problem.”

Schambach and Miller pointed to coal mining underneath rivers, which is done at a much more shallow depth compared to Marcellus and Utica shale drilling. “As long as the regulators believe it is safe, I have no problem with it,” Schambach said.

Mason noted Eureka Hunter, a division of Magnum Hunter, already has a pipeline running under the river to connect Utica Shale production operations in Ohio to the MarkWest Energy processing plant at Mobley, W.Va.

Barnhart and Delegate David Evans, R-Marshall, are not quite as confident in the process. “It always makes you wonder what will happen under the river. The gas industry is a great thing for the state, but I don’t want to jeopardize the water supply,” Barnhart said.

Evans said if the state allows a company to proceed with drilling and fracking under the river, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and other regulatory agencies must thoroughly oversee the process. He cited Axiall Corp., which now operates the Marshall County chemical plant formerly under the PPG Industries badge, as a company that could see a negative effect from such action.

“Their salt wells are down about 5,000 feet. You need to make sure they are not going to do any damage,” Evans said, noting Axiall uses these brine wells as part of the chemical manufacturing process. “It all seems good if you can do something like that, but you need to make sure you are not hurting other plants that are already here.”

As some maintain concerns about the horizontal drilling and fracking plans, a study released last week by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory showed that at fracking operations in Greene County Pa., fracture growth stopped more than 5,000 feet below drinking water aquifers. There also was no upward migration of natural gas or fluid from the fracking procedure.

While studying fracking at the Greene County site, federal researchers detected some microseismic signals, but all were at levels more than 5,000 feet below drinking water aquifers.

James Martin, chief of the DEP’s Office of Oil and Gas, said his agency will thoroughly review any developer’s plans for drilling under the river, just as it would in any other instance.

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