Industry Fields Fracking Questions
No documented water contamination, gas panelist says
Morgantown Dominion Post
11 July 2012
By David Beard
On the same day Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced the membership of
his Natural Gas Vehicle Task Force, the industry advocacy group,
Energize West Virginia with Natural Gas, held its first 2012 town
hall at the Morgantown Ramada Inn.
The timing was coincidental — the forum had been planned for some
time — but highlighted the ongoing importance of the Marcellus
shale industry to the state’s economic future.
The Tuesday evening forum drew several dozen people — some
outspokenly for or against the gas industry — for an overview on
fracking and a Q&A session.
Kim Lawrence, with Energize West Virginia, reviewed some of the
technology and bright economic forecasts regarding the Marcellus
shale industry — reported frequently in The Dominion Post — noting
the industry has generated 7,600 new West Virginia jobs in the
past five years: The natural gas workforce now totals 37,600 jobs.
Audience member Renee Hernandez, of Morgantown, protested fracking
at several public meetings and was chastised by other audience
members and panelists several times Monday for disrupting the
program. She raised the issue of a 2010 lawsuit filed against
Texasbased Southwestern Energy Co. alleging faulty cement on a
well casing led to contamination of a northeast Pennsylvania
Panelist Kyle Mork, with Energy Corporation of America, responded,
“As an industry, we really stand behind [the fact] there has been
no documented instance of contamination from fracking or frack
Another audience member complained that gas well production has
led to higher chloride and other contaminant levels in streams in
some areas, but the state and industry have been slow to take
Panelist Mike John — president of Northeast Natural Energy, which
operates two wells in Morgantown Industrial Park and two more in
Blacksville — said landowners should insist on water tests before
any production begins. Measurable data in hand is the best way to
track potential contamination.
“I’ve lived my whole life in West Virginia,” John said, “and
everyone working for my company lives here too.”
Many fielded technical questions about the size of well pads, how
much of the formation’s gas can be captured from a site — answers
ranged from 25-50 percent — to what property buyers should do to
protect themselves when negotiating a deal.
On the land question, Bowles Rice attorney Britt Freund said to
make sure an attorney does a good title search to establish clear
ownership of the property in question.
Natural gas prices remain at historic lows, and companies are
shifting their focus from dry gas areas — including Mon, Marion
and Preston counties — to the richer, wet gas found along the Ohio
River, the Northern Panhandle and into Ohio.
The Dominion Post asked Morgantown’s Scott Rotruck, with
Chesapeake Energy, what that means to the optimistic economic
forecasts for the state. He said Chesapeake is still working the
wet gas in Wetzel County and up into the Panhandle. Eventually
prices will go up and drilling the dry gas will resume.
Meanwhile, he told the crowd and repeated to The Dominion Post,
the industry and the governor are promoting the future of natural
gas vehicles. Tomblin’s task force will study the feasibility of
converting the state’s vehicle fleet to natural gas fuel. Rotruck
is one of the 15 appointed members of the task force.
Jim Kotcon, with the Sierra Club, mentioned a time when about a
third of WVU’s vehicle fleet was powered by natural gas, but
policy changes shifted it all back to petroleum. What’s to stop
that from happening again, he asked.
Economics was the answer. At one time, natural gas couldn’t
compete with oil, but now it’s far cheaper. And the horizontal
drilling-hydraulic fracking combo make it abundant. There are rich
shale plays across the country, and the Marcellus and Utica under
West Virginia and its neighbors combine to make the largest gas
reserve in the world.
John said, “Fracking has completely changed the paradigm of how
our country looks at natural gas as a resource. This resource is
huge. It’s right here underneath our feet.”