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Marcellus Issues in West Virginia: An Introduction

Water Issues

There are two elements to water issues. There is the state's operators' requirements for the use of fresh water used for hydraulic fracturing. There is also the issue of possible water contamination (ground or surface water) due to oil and gas activities.

The Office of Oil and Gas requires water management plans for operators' horizontal well hydraulic fracturing operations. There is a section on the Office of Oil and Gas' web site that is devoted to water management plans. Environmentalists are concerned about water withdrawals from the state's streams and the impact on fragile ecosystems. Monitoring of the plans is performed by the operators with little oversight by the Office of Oil and Gas.

Possible water contamination due to oil and gas activities is a huge issue since it can affect drinking water for residents and communities. Contamination can come about due to faulty drilling and hydraulic fracturing processes or it can be caused by spills of fluids and chemicals on the surface.

A good overview document created in Canada, Protecting Water Producing Gas, discusses the range of issues. This was written specifically for natural gas drilling and production in Alberta so the regulatory framework is different.

Geoffrey Thyne's paper and presentation for a hydrogeologic study of Garfield county, Colorado prepared in 2008 demonstrate the types of water impacts that exist and could be expected there due, predominately, to improperly cased and cemented natural gas wells.

Improperly cased and cemented natural gas wells and those whose casing and cementing deteriorate over time (more than 50% of wells will deteriorate) can pollute groundwater with methane, chloride, crude petroleum and other constituents.

Blowouts, which can occur on the surface or underground, are when fluids and gas leave the well unexpectedly, often at high pressure and large volumes. These are typically considered rare events and are not well documented in West Virginia. Lack of documentation should not be an indicator of incidence.

Events where hydraulic fracturing fluids and natural gas enter ground water are also not well documented in West Virginia, though a well in West Virginia with pollution of this type was studied in a paper for the EPA in the 1980s.

The state is extremely hesitant to intervene when groundwater pollution has occurred. Pollution, in the eyes of the state, is when substances exceed Maximum Contamination Levels (MCLS) created by the EPA. Secondary Contamination Levels or the EPA's Health Advisory Levels (for sodium and manganese) are not considered. The state has surface water requirements in 47CSR2 but enforcement is another matter.

In spite of these restrictions, the Office of Oil and Gas acknowledges several instances where wells have polluted ground water over the past 10 years. The numbers of court cases and judgments, and those instances where citizens don't feel they have the financial capability to sue a large corporation, indicate that the problem is much, much more extensive.


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  • Share your concerns with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) at 304-926-0499.

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  • WV DEP Spill Hotline 1-800-642-3074
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