By Bill Hughes, WV Community Liaison, FracTracker Alliance
West Virginia has generously allowed the shale gas industry to occupy parts of our private land (for profit), namely the Lewis Wetzel Wildlife Management Area (LWWMA). This area is known for 13,500 acres of slopes, trails and forests, providing its inhabitants with great opportunities to hunt, fish, hike and camp.
The state of West Virginia does not own the mineral rights for the LWWMA, and the citizens of West Virginia can only manage so much; therefore, it is the responsibility of the Department of Natural Resources, on behalf of all WV citizens, to care for and manage public lands like LWWMA. With much surprise, the DNR has not only allowed oil and gas occupation of LWWMA, but has not been permitted to impose any regulation, supervision, or any other type of state-initiated enforcements. This approach is primarily due to the lack — or absence of inspectors in the Office of Oil and Gas — division of the Department of Environmental Protection. Often the inspectors that are available are simply playing catch up since the industry and market made some unexpected changes, according to DEP spokeswoman, Kathy Cosco.
Where is the reclamation?
I have been of the impression that once drilling and fracturing is done and the wells are put into production, that some form of reclamation must occur. To my dismay, no part of the drilling industry has taken responsibility for stream crossings, and clearly has no intention in doing so. Everybody has ostensibly packed their bags and gone home, leaving a mess of abandoned stream crossings behind. It is very apparent that no improvements will be done voluntarily by the companies that have created all the well pads in the area. Now the question remains: are we stuck with the stream crossings the way they are now? Or can the state order that these abandoned, inadequate stream crossings be removed?
How Not to Do Stream Crossings
The four photos below depict the deplorable, unacceptable, and disgraceful conditions of the stream crossings left behind by the drilling industry. The DNR and the State of WV have known about these conditions for years, yet have not required that any improvements to be made. Click on each poor stream crossing image to enlarge it:
These examples might be why some folks are more than just a little incredulous when the DNR said that it was going to lease public lands under the river for drillers to take advantage of, promising and assuring that they protect the Ohio River from any drilling-related problems. If the DNR cannot handle the size of the stream water flow, or find a better way to enforce responsible behavior from the drillers, then the Ohio River and the citizens of West Virginia are surely in trouble.
In Need of Higher Standards
The picture below is a depiction of a good stream crossing, installed by someone other than a drilling company. Is there any hope that we will ever expect drillers to do this quality of reclamation to the places we cherish and call home? From an enforcement standpoint, it is clear that these actions will not be voluntary. West Virginia’s DEP has several divisions that focus on land reclamation, environmental remediation and land restoration; however, all of these encourage voluntary action, something we don’t expect to see from drilling companies in the near future.