Marcellus At Your Door
Doddridge County has done the right thing in denying a flawed permit application to a driller. If you are a Doddridge County resident, call Commissioner Sandora and Williams to thank them for doing the right thing for having put the safety of county residents a priority over submitting to the demands of a driller when making their decision on the Huff/EQT floodplain dispute.
Well, the verdict is in, from Doddridge County Commission. Last Friday they convened to act in their capacity as a Flood Plain Ordinance appeals board. They ruled that they would not return the rescinded permit to EQT. EQT had insisted that it be reinstated so that they would be able, to be able to drill on Ms. Huff’s meadow. Nor would the County Commission approve any subsequent permit involving the meadow. (Still not over yet, as some legal wrangling must still be heard on Oct. 11th on EQT’s injunction filed against the county.)
Still, it is a victory for the residents of Doddridge County who have seen the rule of law obeyed. Most would likely agree it was an ‘applaudable’ action on the part of the two commissioners who had to make the difficult decision under tremendous pressure! And no doubt a real education for them in seeing just how much muscle a big corporation can thrust upon a little ol’ rural county!
And now, perhaps other county commissioners in other counties elsewhere in the state where drilling is heavy, may want to make this a “case study” of sorts. One in which they can examine their own county’s drilling permit policies and flood plain ordinances. Make sure they have the proper channels in place to adequately and effectively review and act on driller’s applications to drill in their counties. Other County Flood Plain Managers and county commissioners need to make sure that something similar doesn't happen such as what happened to us in Doddridge. A driller filing suit against the county to try to force a Marcellus well in a known flood plain/flood way. (See last weeks article for details of the case.)
Are these out-of-state drilling companies banking on the fact that local county governments are ill prepared to deal with the influx of permits for this new “unconventional” type of gas well drilling? Knowing that the WV DEP Office of Oil and Gas has a policy to go ahead and issue permits to them from their state level office? Permits that WV DEP issues without having any procedure in place that would ensure that the driller has done what is expected of them at a county level when seeking that permit from the state DEP? And wouldn't it be more logical for the WV DEP Office of Oil and Gas to simply REQUIRE that a drilling company attach evidence that all necessary local county permits, and Army Corp of Engineer permits have been secured BEFORE ever approaching the WV DEP for their state level permit? Gee, wouldn't that relieve some of the burden of our state DEP inspectors? These guys are most likely running themselves ragged trying to keep up with their paperwork generated by all the permit applications being churned out these days by the office of oil and gas at WV DEP.
Gee, wouldn't that ease some of their inspectors’ burdens if the WV DEP Office of Oil and Gas were simply to require that “drillers need not apply until the county tells you it’s OK.” Now there’s an idea!!! We only have 16 or 17 state inspectors to monitor more than 59,000 conventional wells in addition to dealing with the current Marcellus drilling frenzy!
But without such a policy in effect at the WV DEP Office of Oil and Gas (to require proof of local permitting first) it is ever so CRITICAL that these local counties throughout the state are on board in knowing what is going on in their counties with all drilling. And, knowing what they should be looking for when a driller comes to them with an application for the county level permitting.
Engineering reports that accompany a proposed well site should be THOROUGHLY reviewed for validity of content, as well as whether the info and tools used to generate the engineering report (including maps and software) are current. Also, consider the relationship of the engineering firm to the drilling company, when weighing the value of the documentation submitted on the driller’s behalf. And, if there is any concern or dispute at all, about the documents accompanying the permit application, question them and seek a second opinion!
A review by an INDEPENDENT engineering firm, if need be. Get a second opinion! This removes all suggestion of bias of the previous study, and may even reveal some interesting facts about the engineering studies initially submitted by the applicant. That’s exactly how Ms. Huff and her legal team handled the dispute over the flood plain meadow, in which EQT's own engineering report had asserted the flood plain meadow property would not be adversely affected by their drilling activity. Well, two other independent engineering studies stated otherwise!
All landowners should be so diligent when the company comes a knocking on your door (i.e. streamside meadow) to plop their Marcellus well.
And now the question is.... how many more situations of similar nature may have already slipped through unnoticed in this county? Marcellus wells possibly already placed where there should never have been one? Perhaps someone needs to take on the task of checking the locations of all the existing Marcellus wells in the county to be sure they didn't get plopped on a wetland or flood plain! How many well drilling permits have actually been issued by the county, anyway?
Citizens can play a very proactive part in the process of looking out for themselves and their communities. Share all info you hear about proposed well sites with your neighbors. Especially those near streams and possible flood plains. Ask questions and insist on answers. And that could also include contacting the WV DEP Office of Oil and Gas to request information about specific well sites that are pending permits.
Notify the county commission, (as Ms. Huff did) when something seems amiss. Hopefully, the hiring of a permanent flood plain coordinator for Doddridge, (one who possesses the necessary training, skills, and knowledge to understand these detailed engineering reports and read flood plain maps) will be part of the solution moving forward. The Marcellus shale gas drilling frenzy is a whole new ball game. Our local county governments MUST get on board in knowing what needs to be done to ensure that these enormous well pads are not placed where they have no business being.
by Diane Pitcock, Contributing Writer