The first ordinance to ban the storage, disposal or use of oil and natural gas waste in the state of West Virginia was passed on Tuesday by The Fayette County Commission. Calls for the ordinance came from the local population after an injection well site in Lochgelly operated by Danny Webb Construction was shown by Duke University researchers to leak frack waste into Wolf Creek, a tributary to the New River.
The newly appointed Commission President Matt Wender made it clear the county is acting to protect its citizens’ health and the environment where the DEP has failed.
“While we looked for the DEP to protect the interest of our health, they have given us little or no confidence they are doing that. They allowed Danny Webb to operate for a year without a permit, which was a great undermining of any conviction we had that the state, through the office of the DEP, was looking out for the wellbeing of our citizens,” he said.
Under the ordinance, no permit, order or charter issued by a state agency will be deemed valid in Fayette County, including permits issued by the Department of Environmental Protection.
The ordinance gives both the county commission and individual citizens the authority to seek legal action against those who violate the law and authorizes Fayette County Circuit Court to impose fines of up to $5 million and force the offenders to re-mediate any environmental contamination or damage to public health.
The ordinance was opposed by both Danny Webb Construction and EQT Production Company, whose legal representative Attorney Robert Stonestreet argued that the law unlawfully deprives property owners of the opportunity to use their land for economic gain.
Charlie Burd, executive director for the Independent Oil and Gas Association, pointed out that the shale activities, against which the new ordinance is aimed, have brought wealth and jobs to the state, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars in severance tax.
Most importantly, Corky DeMarco, executive director of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, questioned the likelihood of the actual contamination taking place.
“We have progressed to recycling almost all of the water we use,” he said of the oil and gas industry. “At the end of the process, there’s a minimal amount of waste that has to be gotten rid of. I don’t know of anyone, especially shale drillers, that were using that injection well. It’s much farther south of the play.
Also, commenting on the clause in the ordinance banning the use of fracking brine as salting agents in winter, he said:
“We don’t want this waste on the road any more than we have to,” he added. “It’s also a lot easier to take [shale] waste over the state line and dispose of it in Ohio.”
It is likely that the County Commission’s decision will be challenged in court by the industry, but as Brandon Richardson, of the local environmental group Headwaters Defence, who delivered a petition with over 5,000 signatures supporting the ordinance, said:
“We are determined to protect the rights of the citizens of Fayette County and we are prepared to defend this ordinance in court.”
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