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Marcellus Shale a boon to WV, but a what cost?

By Staff | Apr 27, 2011

Imagine West Virginia moving to the top of the economic state leaders, rather than its history in or near the basement of the 50 state rankings. State legislators and others share a vision for the Mountain State… a vision that originates from the discovery of Marcellus Shale deposits that could bring trillions of dollars to West Virginia.

Acting West Virginia Senate President Jeff Kessler (D-Marshall) has children ranging from college age to high school and diapers. He does not want to see them have to leave their home in order to find good paying jobs with benefits.

“I think natural gas represents a big opportunity,” he explained prior to a forum at Marshall University. “The Marcellus natural gas opportunities might be as big as the 70s oil boon in Alaska and the 30s gas boon in Texas. A great amount of opportunity and wealth was created in those states.”

Kessler anticipates that West Virginians with natural gas deposits on their property will learn from the hard lessons taught by coal companies. “In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the coal companies came in, bought the coal, owned the coal, bought the land, and owned the land.” While they created jobs (once 150,000 miners; now 14,000) then, mechanization turned counties rich in coal reserves into the poorest areas of the state. “They did not diversify their economy. Coal jobs created wealth, but the wealth was exported.”

Natural gas opportunities — which may have all states turning to West Virginia for energy — are not being sold. “Companies are leasing the gas in five year increments,” the attorney explained. “If a farmer has 100 acres (with natural gas), companies are paying $2,000 to $3,000 per acre.” Land owners will collect royalties of 12 percent to 18 percent, thus “nearly 20 percent of every penny coming out of the ground will stay in West Virginia with landowners.”

Under his most optimistic scenario, the Shale deposit could eventually do what oil did for Alaskans — provide every citizen of the state with a check from the proceeds.

Although he supports alternative energy — except nuclear power — Kessler observed “in the short term, there’s no viable alternative for base load energy needs than coal.” Referring to the pollutant aspects of the fossil fuel, he added, “People think coal is dirty. How many folks would want a nuclear power plant in their back yard? After what’s happened (in Japan) you won’t see a rush to nuclear power.”

Addressing energy alternatives, “I like solar and wind, but there’s not enough now to create the base line energy needs of the country. In the short term, coal and natural case are exclusive carbon-based fuels to provide the nation’s energy needs

Carol Warren, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition project coordinator, was on hand in February for the annual E-Day at the legislature.

She said lawmakers are listening to concerns about the dangers of the Marcellus shale development.

“In the midst of all the dollar signs, what we can’t afford to do is lose sight of the things that West Virginians care about most — our homes, our health, our today and our grandchildren’s tomorrow, our clean air and water that is our heritage and our beautiful rural landscape, which really makes West Virginia almost heaven,” Warren said. “No monetary value can be put on any of those.

Warren says, “this is the year, now is the time,” to ensure that responsible legislation is passed to regulate the natural gas industry.

Lawmakers asserted that they want to make sure drilling does not harm communities.

“We are committed to do it right,” Kessler told the group in February.

Delegate Orphy Klempa (D-Ohio) cautioned, “We need economic development. But we also need fresh, clean water and fresh, clean air.

Beth Little, representing the Sierra Club, expressed worries about chemicals used in the fracking process. “Our water may have more heavy metals, radioactive materials and toxin polluting it,” she said.

Since the Shale deposits are so deeply underground, natural gas wells often require water for fracturing the rock. After this fracking process, the water returns from the drill hole laden with dissolved solids which prevent it from being re-used for further fracking.

According to a posting by David Yaussy, a member of Robinson and McElwee in Charleston, drillers try recycling the water. However, the concentrated residue must go somewhere and drillers have put it into “underground injection control wells under high pressure.”

“Some question whether forcing of water into the earth under pressure triggers earthquakes,” Yaussey wrote in his environmental blog. Arkansas scientist believe the pressure can induce quakes; but West Virginia professor Tim Carr opines that the disposal of fracking waters did not contribute to Braxton County tremblers.

(Ed. note: Some material provided from OVEC Release; David Yaussy Blog.)