West Virginia State Parks Focus of Fracking Battle

Environmental advocates in West Virginia are trying to keep hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, out of State Parks. According to the West Highlands Conservancy, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals on Wednesday will take up the matter later this month.

The case actually dates back to 2007, when Cabot Oil and Gas applied to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for a “well work permit” to drill within Chief Logan State Park. A “well work permit” normally addresses such things as roads to the well site, plans for casing the well, plans for sediment control, and other technical aspects of the well.

The DEP denied the application for the well work permit based upon a statute that had always been considered to prohibit gas wells in State Parks. However, the Circuit Court of Logan County reversed the decision of the DEP and ordered that the well work permit be issued. The Department has not yet issued the permit and no work has yet begun in the Park.

The Circuit Court based its decision on the fact that drilling had been allowed in State Parks, but as the West Highland Conservancy points out, those wells existed before Chief Logan became a state park. Various environmental groups have appealed the ruling, and believe that, were the Court presented with all the facts, it would determine that oil and gas drilling on all State Parks-including Chief Logan-is prohibited by law. The DEP and the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources both oppose the ruling and have appealed as well. A hearing before the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals is scheduled for September 22 at 10:00 a.m.

As is the case in many places, growing fracking operations in the state’s Marcellus shale are causing concerns in West Virginia. According to the state DEP, there are more than 500 gas wells in the state targeting the Marcellus shale formation.

Just last week, we reported that state regulators are trying to determine if a series of earthquakes in the state’s southern Braxton County were related to the drilling. This past April, Baxton County experienced a 3.4 magnitude earthquake. Since, then the area has been the site of at least six more, West Virginia Public Broadcasting said. Most were around a 2.7 magnitude – not enough to cause damage but enough for people to feel them.

A year ago, a pit holding fracture flowback “water” for natural gas well 47-017-05815 was breached near Sherwood in Doddridge County. The pit was constructed within feet of Buckeye Creek so the “water,” at least 2500 gallons, went into the creek. West Virginia had no requirement for a minimum distance between ground and surface water for such pits. The stream is a tributary of Middle Island Creek, and the drilling operation was run by West Union-based TAPO under a permit issued by the state DEP.

The DEP didn’t notify anyone of the spill, and the public wasn’t made aware of it until The Exponent Telegram ran an article about the incident months later. Protocol for alerting state agencies about potentially hazardous spills was changed after that incident.

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