Driller Challenges Morgantown, West Virginia Fracking Ban

Morgantown, West Virginia is already facing a lawsuit over a natural gas drilling ban City Council approved last week. Northeast Natural Energy filed suit in Monongalia County Circuit Court claiming the ordinance, which imposes a ban horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing within 1 mile of city limits, is unconstitutional.

The fracking ban passed the Morgantown City Council by a vote of 6-1. As we reported at the time, the Council’s vote was prompted by the recent revelation that Northeast Natural Energy of Charleston had been permitted to drill two Marcellus Shale natural gas wells just upriver from the area’s drinking water intake on the Monongahela River. Among other things, many Morgantown residents expressed frustration that there is no public notification and comment process for gas wells.

Now, according to an Associated Press report, Northeast Natural Energy originally sought a temporary injunction to prevent the ordinance from taking effect. However, Chief Judge Russell Clawges denied the injunction. A hearing is to be scheduled in the near future.

Northeast Natural Energy claims in its complaint that natural gas drilling is regulated exclusively by the state, and alleges that the ordinance illegally deprives private land owners of their property rights. The lawsuit also points out that another community, Westover, is within a mile of Morgantown. The Morgantown ordinance creates confusion, as Westover is considering an ordinance to regulate drilling within the city and within a mile of its borders. According to the Associated Press, Northeast claims that if Westover adopts such an ordinance, the company’s drilling operations “will, ostensibly, be governed by three separate, inconsistent and irreconcilable regulations.” Drilling operations in the communities of Blacksville, Granville and Star City, which border Morgantown, will also be impacted by Morgantown’s ban, yet the city did not seek or receive the consent of those communities, the lawsuit claims.

Enrout Properties LLC, the owner of the surface and mineral in the industrial park site outside Morgantown where Northeast Natural Energy is drilling, is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit. Northeast has been sinking wells on the property, and its operations continue, but it has not begun fracking yet.

In hydraulic fracturing, fracking fluids are injected into the ground at high pressure to shake loose gas and oil deposits. It is believed that fracking fluids contain some toxic chemicals. Some of the fluid returns to the surface as brine, which may contain metals like barium and strontium and even small amounts of radioactivity. Opponents of fracking are concerned that this type of natural gas drilling could lead to pollution of vital drinking water sources, either through the release of naturally-occurring hazardous substances or as a result of spills or leaks involving fracking fluid or fracking wastewater.

As we’ve reported previously, the Mayor of Morgantown, Charles Byrer, has said the city was forced into adopting the fracking ban because West Virginia lacks effective state regulation for the industry.

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