Pipeline to cross under Brooke trail

WELLSBURG – The Brooke County Commission will receive about $2,000 for allowing a natural gas transmission line to be extended under the Brooke County Pioneer Trail about a half-mile south of the Wheeling Culvert Plant near Beech Bottom.

County Commissioner Jim Andreozzi said the commission agreed to enter into an agreement with MarkWest Midstream and Resources after consulting its legal counsel, County Prosecutor Joseph Barki III.

It was supported by County Commissioners Tim Ennis and Norma Tarr. Andreozzi abstained, saying it was because of personal dealings he has with MarkWest.

Andreozzi said the work isn’t expected to affect the trail because it will be done many feet under it and the Ohio River nearby, but there are provisions in the agreement that hold the company responsible for restoring the site if it’s damaged.

It’s not been decided how money from the easement will be used.

Ruby Greathouse, president of the Brooke County Pioneer Trail Association, suggested it could be used as a match for a grant to purchase a tractor to maintain the trail.

In related business, Andreozzi and County Sheriff Chuck Jackson discussed a program held Tuesday in Wheeling by the Just Beneath the Surface Alliance.

The group was formed by the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia and the West Virginia Petroleum Council, a division of the American Petroleum Institute, to encourage support for the natural gas industry and the use of hydraulic fracturing to release natural gas from underground geological formations known as the Marcellus and Utica shales.

Jackson said while natural gas wells have been drilled in various areas of Brooke County, there’s been relatively little activity so far but that will change. He said he would like to establish a county task force, similar to one in Marshall County, that would meet with industry officials and share concerns.

A task force comprised of representatives of local fire and other emergency departments was formed by Bob Fowler, county director of emergency management, to prepare them for emergencies that may arise during drilling.

But Andreozzi said he’d like to see county and city leaders involved in a discussion that also could include how local government can help the natural gas industry. He said municipalities and public service districts might benefit from supplying water for drilling operations. In many cases drillers use water from the Ohio River, but Andreozzi said the cost to haul it to well sites must be expensive.

Andreozzi said local officials need to ensure that safe measures are followed.

“We want to hold their feet to the fire on that end of it, but we also want to make their job easier for them,” he said.

Jackson agreed, saying through the program he learned the assessed property values in Marshall County have increased by almost 50 percent in the last two years and doubled since 2007.

“I would love to see that happen here,” he said.

It’s not the first time the county has received a boost from the natural gas industry.

The Brooke Hills Park board received $750,000 for signing a lease with Appalachia Midstream Services allowing Chesapeake Energy to drill on nearly 100 acres at the rear of the park near Pearce Run Road. Crews finished hydraulic fracturing at the site last summer.

The park will receive 18 percent of royalties on about 90 acres, with other royalties going to descendants of the W.C. Gist family, who retained mineral rights to a portion of the land they donated to the county for the park.

The board also granted an easement allowing a pipeline to be extended through the same area, from Pearce Run Road to McAdoo Ridge.

Environmental concerns have been raised about hydraulic fracturing. Opponents point to incidents in which wastewater from the process was spilled outside the wells; methane from abandoned coal mines was released, resulting in fires; or minor earthquakes that have occurred in areas near drilling sites.

Industry officials and others have said the process is safe when done properly and provides access to a natural resource that will reduce or eliminate the nation’s dependency on foreign oil.