Yesterday, citizen groups on both sides of the Ohio River sent a letter to W.Va. Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, requesting that he withdraw a proposal that would allow drilling for natural gas under the Ohio River. They also requested a meeting with the governor.
In late August, the groups alerted one another to a disturbing legal notice in area newspapers: Until September 25, the W.Va. Department of Commerce, Division of Natural Resources is taking bids that will allow the successful bidder to drill for Marcellus- and Utica-shale-derived natural gas beneath the Ohio River in Pleasants, Marshall and Wetzel counties.
Although a news report quotes W.Va. Governor Early Ray Tomblin as saying, “The proposed development is in the best economic interests of the state and will not unreasonably disrupt use and enjoyment of the Ohio River or the division’s opportunities to develop other mineral interests in the area,” the citizen groups are highly skeptical of the wisdom of drilling under the Ohio River.
“The 981 miles of the Ohio River provide drinking water to more than five million people. Ten percent of the country lives in the Ohio River Basin. Considering the multiple dire water situations we are seeing nationwide — such as drought out west, coal-chemical contamination of 300,000 people’s water supply in West Virginia, drinking water at peril from fracking waste around the country — we should be doing everything possible to safeguard our water. Drilling under the Ohio River is a huge risk,” says Roxanna Groff of the Athens County Fracking Action Network.
Groff’s group and several others recently successfully worked together to convince the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to extend the comment period on a fracking waste barge dock permit proposed for Portland, Meigs County, Ohio.
In coming together to question this latest threat to the Ohio River, the groups point out that since 2005, according to federal law (42 U.S. Code § 15941), “No Federal or State permit or lease shall be issued for new oil and gas slant, directional, or offshore drilling in or under one or more of the Great Lakes.”
“There are protections for the water in Lake Erie needed for drinking water in the northern part of the state — why not the same protections for the water in the southern?” says FreshWater Accountability Project Managing Director Leatra Harper.
“One state’s governor shouldn’t be able to sell off drilling rights at the peril of the millions who depend on the Ohio River for drinking water,” says Mary Greer of Concerned Citizens Ohio, based in Portage County.
“Fracking related activities have been causing earthquakes and there’s a fault line running under the Ohio River,” says Teresa Mills with the Center for Health, Environment and Justice. (See http://www2.ohiodnr.com/portals/geosurvey/ohioseis/images/faultbig.gif.)
“We’ve heard before that some outrageous plan is ‘safe’ when it wasn’t. There needs to be a comprehensive environmental study done before drilling under the Ohio River is even considered,” says Patricia Jacobson with FaCT-OV.
“How can one division of state government rush into such an enterprise without consulting the people of West Virginia, or indeed anyone living in any downstream state, as well as the federal government? How can it be in the best economic interests of a state to jeopardize a major source of drinking water for millions of people?” says Robin Blakeman of the Huntington, W.Va.-based Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.
In reporting on the proposal, the website FrackCheckWV.net wrote, “Drilling and fracking above or near the Ohio River will result in hundreds of acres of disturbed land, toxic chemical leaks, increased water pollution run-off and contaminated storm water, as well as significant air pollution from diesel trucks, pumps and/or compressors, gas leaks and flares. The chances of fires, explosions, fish kills, worker injuries, and public health exposures are very real.”
The Department of Commerce will hold a public opening of all bids on Friday, September 26, at 1:00 p.m. in Room 525, 1900 Kanawha Boulevard East, State Capitol Complex, Building 6, Charleston, W.Va.
Groups signing the letter: Athens County (OH) Fracking Action Network, Concerned Citizens Ohio, CHEJ, FaCT-OV, Fresh Water Accountability Project, OVEC, Southwest Ohio No Frack Forum, Wetzel County (W.Va.) Action Group and the WV Chapter of the Sierra Club.