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West Virginia: a spill not reported and not cleaned up, with no answers for the surface owners

Amy Mall

Posted January 27, 2011

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I recently heard from Tina and Spencer Wooddell, farmers in Taylor County, West Virginia. Tina told me that a natural gas production company “is ruining our hopes and dreams.”

She told me that a company named EQT has been drilling for natural gas on land belonging to her neighbors. One wellpad is right on the property line, uphill from the Wooddell land and directly above a drinking water source for the Wooddell’s horses, cattle, and sheep. It is about 200 feet from the drill rig to one of their water wells and a natural spring. Here is a photo showing how close it is:

Wooddell Well and Property Line.jpg

Photo credit: Tina Wooddell, used with permission

A few weeks ago, the Wooddell’s mechanic noticed white lime spread on the Wooddell property and hay bales from the fence line up the hill to the neighboring wellpad. The Wooddells called the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) spill hotline and asked if a spill had been reported, but none had. DEP staff came to the site the following day and said there had been a spill. When Mrs. Wooddell asked the state inspector and EQT representative what their protocol was for notifying a land owner of a spill, she reports that both said, ”They didn’t know.” She tells me that she requested that they test the water and was told they would do so immediately, but no one came for five days.

So no one notified this family that industrial fluids had been spilled on their property--near a spring that is used for their livestock as well as local wildlife and that flows into a pond and a larger stream. For that matter, it appears that no one had notified state or federal officials either. The Wooddells are the ones who discovered the spill and notified state and federal officials.

The Wooddells tell me that they were told the spill was “water and detergent,” but that no one will tell them when the spill occurred, how much was spilled, or the exact ingredients in the spilled fluid. They heard from the person who came to test their water that tanks overflowed, and an EQT representative told Mrs. Wooddell that a fissure was hit during drilling, but they haven’t been told what was in the tanks or why the tanks overflowed. EQT recently told the Wooddells that it plans to take additional water tests due to concerns, but won’t tell them what their concerns are or what the first tests concluded.

Needless to say, the Wooddells are concerned for their own health as well as that of their animals. They are paying to board some of their horses elsewhere to protect their health. Due to the lack of forthcoming information, they can't know what the risks may be to themselves or their livestock. And the ramifications may go beyond the Wooddell farm because the farm is one of the highest points in Taylor County and they tell me it is a tremendous natural watershed for the area.

Under West Virginia policy, a company has 7 days to remedy a situation, but spilled materials still sit on the Wooddell land, weeks after the spill occurred.

The Wooddells tell me that this is only the latest harm to their property from natural gas production. When they purchased the farm, it already had a compressor station, producing wells, a gas storage field, and additional facilities. However, the Wooddells do not own any minerals, and do not benefit financially from any of this activity. Among other things, this activity requires an incredible amount of regular truck traffic and the use of heavy equipment that is harming the farmland, yet the company has denied requests from the Wooddells to improve the road or move it to a less damaging spot.

EQT claims to be a good neighbor. But it appears that the company is violating its own policy. The Wooddells, and all families living with oil and gas prodution operations in their backyard, deserve to be treated better than this, starting with swift notifcation, complete and transparent information about what spilled on their land, appropriate precautions for human and animal health, thorough remediation, and strict enforcement by the regulators, including appropriate penalties.

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Jesse CecilJan 28 2011 06:45 PM

This is despicable, and a prime example of the kind of disrespect and blatant disregard the petroleum industry as a whole has for regulations, the environment, wildlife, and people that are horribly affected by their activities.

Nicole GoodJan 29 2011 11:52 PM

I look at the photo and can't help but think how upset I would be if this were my property; the eyesore of the drill rig, noise, and truck fumes would be frustrating enough, but on top of that this family has to deal with a mysterious spill?

Nanci MorganJan 30 2011 06:35 PM

I live in Taylor Co., W.V., and own beef cattle, so this is a real potential problem, for ALL of us. We sell our feeder calves, and they usually go to farms in Ohio or PA., eventually ending up in our grocery stores in numerous states!

Amy MallJan 30 2011 07:35 PM

It seems that spills or other incidents of environmental contamination are often reported by citizens who notice them by chance, instead of the companies involved. This does not inspire confidence in the management and safety standards of these companies. Employees should be encouraged to report accidents immediately to all concerned parties--and rewarded for following the rules. How many spills go unreported?

Jim SconyersJan 31 2011 02:47 PM

The Marcellus bill from Judiciary Comm requires no gas drilling within 1000 feet of a building or water well, except with the owner's written permission.

Mike Manypenny Delegate for Taylor CountyFeb 1 2011 10:12 AM

Hi Everybody,
Just wanted to let you all know I am working on an Oil and Gas Drilling Accountability Act to hold them accountable for spills /contamination of surface water and aquifers along with other infractions. Any input would be helpful. Thank you all for your comments. Hopefully the two bills we have to regulate the industry will be refined and improved as they proceed through their committees. Your input will be neccesary to get the Senate to act responsibly. The House should be no problem.

Tina WooddellFeb 1 2011 11:37 AM

As this is my property; I am highly upset. My big problem with the state is: if they are aware of the problems that are not being handled now, why do they continue to issue permits for the drilling? If they are so understaffed, why do they continue to issue permits for the drilling. Honestly, the OIl & Gas inspector who was at the meeting when I met with EQT representatives did not even bother to go look at the spill area! He looked at some pictures that I had on my camera, but that was it. I have so many issues as a surface owner that I could probably write a book. This is the last straw!

Petrie BrownFeb 1 2011 04:13 PM

It would seem that the traditional mind-set of considering West Virginia a "sacrifice state" for the benefit of industries and some politicians is alive and well.

Louanne FatoraFeb 1 2011 06:02 PM

I have just discovered that many sites in Doddridge and Harrison counties are actually being prepped, razed and bulldozed even before a permit is issued. This is a prime example why we need more money from the gas companies to pay for more inspectors. Tina Woodell, you need to have your own water & soil tests done, then ask EQT to reimburse you for whatever you have to pay!

Tina WooddellFeb 1 2011 11:48 PM

I just read an article in the The Wheeling Intelligence:

"Some legislators are concerned that having one Department of Environmental Protection inspector for every 4,917 wells places an unrealistic burden on the inspectors.

However, other legislators and industry leaders believe raising the cost of permits from $600 to $15,000 will destroy the industry by discouraging new development."

Seriously, are they kidding me! One inspector for 4,917 wells! Unbelievable! WV Department of Environmental Protection Abandoned Mine Land Projects have an inspector on site on a daily basis! Those cleaning up the messes that were allowed to be made by "Big Coal" required daily inspections. Hmmm....doesn't quite make good sense does it?

Increasing permit fees is going to discourage nothing! These companies are going to be making millions if not billions off of these wells. What a joke! Believe me $15,000 is going to discourage nothing. Maybe they should make the permit fee the cost of what it requires to provide an inspector onsite every day. That sounds a little better to me.

Seriously, WV you need to wake up and get out of the pockets of the gas companies! Start thinking about the health of the residents of WV, Surface Owner Rights, and what the state is going to be paying to clean up in the future!

Sorry Amy I just had a little fit! :0)

Amy MallFeb 2 2011 11:25 AM

Tina: No need to apologize. We welcome comments. Thank you for letting me know about this information.

Comments are closed for this post.


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