WELLSBURG - The Brooke County Commission's meeting room at the Brooke County Courthouse was filled with local emergency officials, firefighters and other community members interested in learning more about plans by Chesapeake Energy to drill for natural gas in the county.
And Stacey Brodak, director of corporate development for the Fort Worth, Texas-based company, attempted to dissuade concerns about its use of hydraulic fracturing at the first meeting of the county's newly formed task force on natural gas drilling.
The group was formed because Chesapeake has secured permits to drill on property in the name of John Hupp off Locust Grove Road in Bethany and in the name of Barry Greathouse off BG Lane near Girtys Point Road in the West Liberty area.
Chesapeake also has applied for a few other permits and has approached Brooke County school officials about drilling near Franklin Primary School and the Brooke County Park and Recreation Commission about drilling at Brooke Hills Park.
Hydraulic fracturing is a process used by natural gas companies to release natural gas from the Marcellus shale, an underground geologic formation that extends from New York to Tennessee.
Often called "fracking," the process involves drilling thousands of feet into the ground and blasting water, sand and chemicals, some of them toxic, into the shale to release the gas.
The procedure has raised concerns by some environmental experts about the chemicals contaminating groundwater and releasing methane commonly found in former coal mining sites or uranium found naturally in the ground.
Chesapeake: Safety measures in place
Brodak said Chesapeake has adopted procedures that are above federal standards to guard against contamination.
She said natural gas drillers are required to test nearby water sources within 1,000 feet from a drilling site, but Chesapeake employs an independent contractor to test within 2,500 feet of the site.
Brodak said about 5.6 million gallons of freshwater is used in hydraulic fracturing.
Water injected into the well is about 95.5 percent water and sand, with the remaining 0.5 percent comprised of chemicals that serve various functions in retaining the natural gas, she said.
Chemicals that have been used in hydraulic fracturing overseen by Chesapeake include: hydrochloric acid, ethylene glycol, isopropanol, glutaraldehyde, petroleum distillate, guar gum, ammonium persulfate, formamide, borate salts, citric acid, potassium chloride, sodium and potassium carbonate.
Brodak said several layers of steel and cement separate the well from the surrounding earth, and fluids used in the process are contained in a closed-loop system involving a series of steel bins.
She said after drilling, the wastewater is collected in tanks, blended with more freshwater to be used again and later hauled to an appropriate landfill where it can be disposed of in a manner compliant with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
Brodak said the water isn't dumped in streams, municipal water systems or on-site "frac pits," lined ponds that have raised concerns among some environmental experts.
Brodak said a team from a private environmental inspection company under contract to Chesapeake performs unannounced audits of 40 to 50 of its drill sites each week.
She added the sites also are inspected by officials with the West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection.
Concerns about a limited number of state inspectors available to check the growing number of natural gas drilling operations has led state legislators to suggest raising permit fees to support additional staff.
Drilling has economic benefit
Brodak said drilling by Chesapeake and other natural gas companies has brought millions of dollars to the states where they have operated.
She cited a Penn State University study that found $871 million in state and local taxes were generated by Marcellus shale drilling in Pennsylvania in 2010 and nearly 50,000 jobs were created by it in 2009.
Brodak said Chesapeake has 100 producing wells in West Virginia and has paid $53.1 million in state severance taxes over the last five years and $40 million in lease bonus payments to property owners in Marshall and Wetzel counties since 2008.
She said 187 West Virginia companies have been employed by Chesapeake at a cost of about $177 million.
She said companies that have worked for Chesapeake include B.J. Services, Environmental Sampling, RedSkyLand and Weatherford, while Chesapeake employs its own drilling company, Nomac Drilling.
Bob Fowler, Brooke County director of emergency management, said he's preparing an emergency response plan with input from officials in Marshall County.
Last year firefighters in Marshall County responded to two fires involving natural gas wells, one drilled by Chief Oil and Gas and the other by Chesapeake.
Fowler said firefighters from Boots and Coots International Well Control, a company under contract to Chesapeake, will be called should a fire occur at the Brooke County sites, with members of local volunteer fire departments providing support only.
The Beech Bottom, Bethany, Franklin Community and Windsor Heights fire departments serve the areas where drilling permits have been approved.
Fowler said he's putting together a mass care trailer, in which up to 50 people could receive medical treatment at the scene if needed; and working to address such issues as transporting water for firefighting to rural areas where drilling is to occur.
Bethany Fire Chief Paul Seidewitz suggested posting signs on roads leading to the drill sites to inform other traffic.
Brodak said Chesapeake officials are coordinating truck traffic around school bus routes.
Bob Sadler, superintendent of the Hammond Public Service District, said he's concerned about heavy equipment damaging a 2-inch water line that runs beneath BG Lane, a gravel road.
Bob Whipp, a former district director for the West Virginia Division of Highways now employed by Chesapeake, said it may be possible to relocate the line.
Brooke County Commissioner Bernie Kazienko noted the drillers are required to post bonds for road repairs spurred by the heavy traffic.
He was among officials who were hopeful that the drilling would bring mostly good news to the county in the form of an economic boost.
"It's progress in action. It's a promising thing," said Seidewitz.
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