West Virginia: a spill not reported and not cleaned up, with no answers for the surface owners
I recently heard from Tina and Spencer Wooddell, farmers in Taylor County, West Virginia. Tina told me that a natural gas production company “is ruining our hopes and dreams.”
She told me that a company named EQT has been drilling for natural gas on land belonging to her neighbors. One wellpad is right on the property line, uphill from the Wooddell land and directly above a drinking water source for the Wooddell’s horses, cattle, and sheep. It is about 200 feet from the drill rig to one of their water wells and a natural spring. Here is a photo showing how close it is:
Photo credit: Tina Wooddell, used with permission
A few weeks ago, the Wooddell’s mechanic noticed white lime spread on the Wooddell property and hay bales from the fence line up the hill to the neighboring wellpad. The Wooddells called the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) spill hotline and asked if a spill had been reported, but none had. DEP staff came to the site the following day and said there had been a spill. When Mrs. Wooddell asked the state inspector and EQT representative what their protocol was for notifying a land owner of a spill, she reports that both said, ”They didn’t know.” She tells me that she requested that they test the water and was told they would do so immediately, but no one came for five days.
So no one notified this family that industrial fluids had been spilled on their property--near a spring that is used for their livestock as well as local wildlife and that flows into a pond and a larger stream. For that matter, it appears that no one had notified state or federal officials either. The Wooddells are the ones who discovered the spill and notified state and federal officials.
The Wooddells tell me that they were told the spill was “water and detergent,” but that no one will tell them when the spill occurred, how much was spilled, or the exact ingredients in the spilled fluid. They heard from the person who came to test their water that tanks overflowed, and an EQT representative told Mrs. Wooddell that a fissure was hit during drilling, but they haven’t been told what was in the tanks or why the tanks overflowed. EQT recently told the Wooddells that it plans to take additional water tests due to concerns, but won’t tell them what their concerns are or what the first tests concluded.
Needless to say, the Wooddells are concerned for their own health as well as that of their animals. They are paying to board some of their horses elsewhere to protect their health. Due to the lack of forthcoming information, they can't know what the risks may be to themselves or their livestock. And the ramifications may go beyond the Wooddell farm because the farm is one of the highest points in Taylor County and they tell me it is a tremendous natural watershed for the area.
Under West Virginia policy, a company has 7 days to remedy a situation, but spilled materials still sit on the Wooddell land, weeks after the spill occurred.
The Wooddells tell me that this is only the latest harm to their property from natural gas production. When they purchased the farm, it already had a compressor station, producing wells, a gas storage field, and additional facilities. However, the Wooddells do not own any minerals, and do not benefit financially from any of this activity. Among other things, this activity requires an incredible amount of regular truck traffic and the use of heavy equipment that is harming the farmland, yet the company has denied requests from the Wooddells to improve the road or move it to a less damaging spot.
EQT claims to be a good neighbor. But it appears that the company is violating its own policy. The Wooddells, and all families living with oil and gas prodution operations in their backyard, deserve to be treated better than this, starting with swift notifcation, complete and transparent information about what spilled on their land, appropriate precautions for human and animal health, thorough remediation, and strict enforcement by the regulators, including appropriate penalties.