West Virginia: used to be "almost heaven," now is hell for some residents near natural gas operations

Earlier this week the West Virginia legislature passed a bill to create some new rules for natural gas drilling in the Marcellus shale. It's a perfect example of the vicious cycle we have seen around the country -- residents complain about contaminated water and poisoned air, states pass bills that create some new rules that don't do all that is necessary to reduce risk to public health and the environment, more people complain as the industry continues to expand, states go back to the drawing board. We have recently seen this in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Colorado. States should instead be jumping ahead of the curve (and they are perfectly capable of doing so because the better technologies are not rocket science), but they're not.

The West Virginia Surface Owners' Rights Organization (WVSORO) says: "We are beyond disappointed that the Governor and Legislature weren't willing to do more for surface owners to help them have their rights recognized and respected." They have details on the legislation on their website. WVSORO points out one highlight of the bill: For horizontal wells only, drill cuttings and other drilling waste can only be buried on someone's property if the surface owner consents. It takes so much to shock me these days, but I honestly cannot believe that the West Virginia Governor’s bill would have continued to allow on-site burial of toxic waste on a surface owner's land without their consent. Unbelievable.

The bill also increases fees so that the state can hire more inspectors. That's a good thing.

But a guest editorial in the Huntington News points out that the bill provides more protection for trout than for humans.

What's it like to be in West Virginia drilling hell? There's a good feature story that relates what West Virginia residents are facing, just published in Guernica, an on-line magazine. 

About the Authors

Amy Mall

Senior Policy Analyst, Land & Wildlife program

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