Commission Wants to Help Fund Water Testing

Pocahontas Times
8 September 2011
By Pamela Pritt

The Pocahontas County Commission wants to avoid troubled waters in the Birthplace of Rivers and one commissioner is suggesting that the county pay for baseline testing of water wells.

Commissioner Martin Saffer said he is concerned about companies drilling for natural gas in Marcellus shale by using a method called hydraulic fracturing or hydrofracking, which can use millions of gallons of water per well and uses a surfactant that could contain harsh chemicals. Opponents of the practice say they fear that surface water sources will be depleted and groundwater sources will be contaminated if drilling rigs set up within this county's borders.

"I think the county has to make an assessment of the water asset [here]. Your water is my water in this county," said commissioner Martin Saffer. "It's dangerous or naïve to think that your well is not intertwined with other water in the county."

Saffer noted that the county's water assets need to have a "market value." Caves, underground streams, rivers and lakes and streams that sink and rise again miles away all play a part in the area's abundant water resources, he said.

Water could be a "billion dollar asset," he hypothesized.

While commissioners did not come to any conclusion on the matter, the discussion about protecting water resources here was broad and open-ended.

County sanitarian David Henderson said he found an "oil and gas pre-drilling package" test. Samples from testing would have to be hand-delivered to Charleston and cost $223. Henderson said someone from his department would have to draw the sample. The tests do not cover radioactivity.

Henderson said that since 1984, 1,851 water wells have been drilled in Pocahontas County. Excluding all wells drilled before the permitting process began nearly 20 years ago, testing would cost more than $40,000. Henderson said testing should be voluntary.

Saffer said his end game is to have the commission enter into a fully documented resolution with findings and conclusions about hydrofracking.

"We can't just say, ‘we believe,'" he said. "We have to know what we're talking about. We're going to have to spend some money."

Lynnmarie Knight, of the Pocahontas County Water Resources Task Force, said it is important to take local action. The state's water management plan is "on hold," she said.

Elk Headwaters Watershed Association president George Bell suggested that the county launch a campaign to encourage people to have their wells tested and that the county do a vulnerability study to highlight which of the county's watersheds might be the most sensitive to contamination.

Hillsboro resident Beth Little said the county commission should be asking questions of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection about drilling in karst limestone formations.