Gas Drilling OK’d Near City

Council, MUB express worries about air, water

Morgantown Dominion Post
5 May 2011
By David Beard

The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has approved permits for two Marcellus gas wells in the Morgantown Industrial Park. Site preparation has begun, said Michael John, president of Northeast Natural Energy, the Charleston-based company that will do the drilling.

Some officials and watershed advocates are concerned that the site sits upstream from Morgantown Utility Board’s drinking water treatment plant intake. They want the DEP to craft a more open permitting process incorporating public comment.

Other officials are confident the job will be done right. John said his company is committed to sound practices that benefit the economy and preserve the environment.

Morgantown Industrial Park is along the Monongahela River, outside Westover.

The well pad, along with the mineral rights, is owned by Enrout Properties LLC. Its principals are Glenn, Kevin and Michael Adrian and Michael Bland, according to secretary of state records. Kevin Adrian said the pad will occupy 4-5 acres. Maps accompanying the permit show it situated just southwest of the WVU laundry facility.

These are not the first gas wells at the park. Conventional vertical wells already operate there.

John said the two permits — issued March 10 and March 23 — allow the company to drill two wells on the pad — MIP No. 4H and No. 6H. If various factors pan out — including the wells’ productivity and pipeline capacity — the company may drill four more on the same pad.

Officials react

Morgantown City Councilman Don Spencer spoke about the wells at Tuesday’s council meeting and repeated his concerns Wednesday to The Dominion Post.

He didn’t know then what company was involved, but said, “Whichever company it is, it is a matter of concern. ... Wells can be highly invasive installations for anything that surrounds them.”

He mentioned potential air pollution from well blowoffs, water contamination from drainage, and spills and impoundments.

He would like to see the DEP modify its permitting process to provide public notice of permit applications, and time for public hearings and public comment.

“This is a perfect example of why,” he said.

On behalf of the council, he asked City Manager Terrence Moore to contact the DEP, learn what’s going on and express the city’s concerns.

Moore said the city’s position was expressed April 5, when Council passed a resolution urging a special legislative session to draft Marcellus drilling regulations. The city is awaiting word regarding that resolution.

Monongalia County Commission President Asel Kennedy said he is aware of the drilling plans. “If they follow best management practices, there shouldn’t be a problem. I think you can drill for shale gas and not damage the environment.”

The County Commission approved the Morgantown Industrial Park Tax Increment Financing District in 2008. It uses property tax revenues to pay for bonds to fund development. Adrian said the money is used for roads and other infrastructure in the park, and not for private interests.

Water interests react

Barry Pallay, co-chair of the WV/PA Monongahela Area Watersheds Compact and vice president of the Upper Monongahela River Association, echoed Spencer’s concerns.

The wells have received little public fanfare. “This points out the need for a DEP strategy for permitting oil and gas and Marcellus wells,” he said.

MUB General Manager Tim Ball said he’s also concerned about the wells’ location, but was pleased that Northeast reached out to MUB to let it know about its plans.

“That was a sign of good faith on their part,” he said. Northeast pledged to listen to and address their concerns and requests for precautions.

MUB has done three things regarding the wells, Ball said.

One began in January, and solidified in March after the Legislature failed to pass Marcellus regulation. Ball formed a technical advisory group to deal with any potential threat to MUB’s watershed. Group members are Ball; Downstream Strategies President Evan Hansen; Dr. Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the WVU’s Water Research Institute; and Stephanie Timmermeyer, a former DEP secretary and now director of regulatory affairs, Eastern Division, Chesapeake Energy.

The second became moot when he learned the permits were granted. It was, to any extent possible, to have a say in the permitting process.

Barring that, the third is to work directly with Northeast to ensure all possible precautions.

“We won’t attempt to stop it,” Ball said, “just work to make sure it’s done in the best way possible.”

Northeast explains plans

John said that once drilling begins, each well will take about a month to finish. Given possible weather delays, he didn’t have a precise timeline for the work. Work is going on and “we’re still pretty much on schedule.”

He’s aware of the various concerns, he said.

“As an industry, we have to go about this in a responsible way. I’m very confidant that this is going to happen,” he said. He’s a West Virginia native who loves his home state.

“We are very diligent in how we conduct our operations. We will do everything that needs to be done to protect our environment. ... We can’t talk about the product until we talk about our commitment to doing things right and protecting the environment.”

Given that commitment, he’s a big booster for natural gas, he said. “It’s a very abundant resource that’s right in our backyard, that’s a cleanburning fuel that can mean a lot to this country.”

John said Northeast also has plans — when the permitting is done — to drill two other wells on another pad in the area, but he could not provide information on them at this time.