Morgantown Utility Board Seeks Drilling Safeguards

Charleston Gazette
13 May 2011
By Ken Ward Jr.

With the start of drilling approaching, the Morgantown Utility Board is seeking additional safeguards for the city’s water supply from any potential problems associated with Northeast Natural Energy’s plans for Marcellus Shale wells just upstream from the area’s water intake on the Monongahela River.

This week, MUB general manager Timothy L. Ball has sent two letters about the project to James Martin, director of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Oil and Gas.

The first letter, dated May 10 and posted here, notes that the wells “will be literally within sight of our raw water intake”. It continues:

The distance from the well pad to the raw water intake will be about 3,000 feet as the crow flies. More importantly, any substance that is discharged to a stream or drainage pipe from the well site will enter the Monongahela River a mere 1,500 feet (approximately) upstream of our raw water intake. These proximities are a cause of unique concern.

The letter also says:

… We are extremely disappointed and frustrated to learn that the subject permits were issued without providing MUB an opportunity to comment and to have input on the requirements to be included in the permit. We understand that the current regulations governing such permits apparently do not require public notice or solicitation of public input, but neither do they preclude such actions.

In the follow-up letter, dated May 12 and posted here, Ball says that MUB has reviewed the permits in more detail and would like a number of additional safeguards added:

– Redundant containment structures for drilling fluids, tailings, drilling mud and fracking fluids;

– Additional testing of the drill casing pipes to protect against potential leaks;

– Removal of all drilling residuals and fracking fluids from the site, rather than disposal on site.

Ball notes in this letter that the drilling is set to begin on Monday, and says:

We request that drilling not commence until the spill containment measures discussed above have been fully implemented. Similarly, no other phase of work should begin until related measures discussed above have been fully implemented.

The letter concludes:

We do not seek to have the subject permits revoked. We simply want to ensure that the safety of our raw water supply is protected, and that the permits adequately address this need.

Both MUB letters can be downloaded from the Charleston Gazette blog: