Wellsburg, West Virginia Rejects Fracking

The city of Wellsburg, West Virginia has let it be known that fracking is not welcome there. According to a report in the Wheeling Intelligencer, Wellsburg City Council approved the first reading of an ordinance that would bar natural gas or oil drilling in the city, as well as any that involves hydraulic fracturing within one mile of Wellsburg.

Mayor Sue Simonetti said restrictions against natural gas drilling have been discussed by the city’s ordinance committee for some time. Drillers are eyeing Marcellus shale gas deposits in the area, as Chesapeake Energy has already obtained permits to drill for natural gas in several areas of Brooke County and secured a lease agreement allowing it to drill at Brooke Hills Park, according to the Intelligencer.

Recent well fires and traffic accidents involving gas company vehicles on narrow rural roads have some West Virginians worried about future drilling in the state. According to the Intelligencer, the Wellsburg anti-fracking ordinance was prompted by concerns about its impact on the reservoir outside the city that serves as Wellburg’s water supply.

Fracking, which involves injecting a mixture of water and chemicals into shale deposits under high pressure to release natural gas, is generally exempt from regulation under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, except when diesel fuel is used in injection fluids. As a result, the federal government does not require natural gas drillers to disclose the ingredients in their fracking fluid, and most regulation of hydraulic fracturing is left up to individual states.

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 such as arsenic, mercury, heavy metals and radioactive materials from underground, or as a result of spills or leaks involving fracking fluid or fracking wastewater. Studies have shown that fracking fluids often contain some hazardous chemicals, including benzene and diesel.

A congressional investigation that concluded earlier this year found that drilling service companies have injected millions of gallons of diesel fuel underground during fracturing for natural gas. A report published by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) in early 2010 also found that many wells were being frocked with diesel without the proper permits.

Yesterday, an Environmental Protection Agency official told a Senate panel that any natural gas and oil drillers who acknowledged injecting diesel fuel into the ground during hydraulic fracturing broke the law if they didn’t have a permit from the agency.

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