Working on Gas Almost Since the Beginning

By Cindy Rank

West Virginia Highlands Conservancy has worked on gas drilling issues since the 1980s.  We participated with allies in Legislative hearings and negotiations aimed toward enacting the Surface Owners Rights Bill; served on Committees such as the former WV DNR Water Quality Advisory Committee in formulating ways to deal with pit waste generated by conventional gas drilling.

The Highlands Conservancy partners with local, state and regional groups to actively work to oppose and/or to rein in the harmful practices associated with the more recent unconventional shale gas drilling that utilizes horizontal or directional drilling complete with high volume hydraulic fracturing.  Known these days as “fracking” this method of drilling has taken West Virginia and neighboring states by storm both economically and environmentally.  Some communities have benefited at least in the short term from the influx of money; others have been devastated by the huge impact to land and water resources required for the new drilling techniques.

And it’s not just the drilling itself that causes harm.  From the excessive and dangerous traffic on rural roads, to the imposition of huge well pads for multiple bore holes, to leaks of poison waste water, to air pollution, and disruptive and debilitating noise, neighbors and surface owners have suffered unwanted intrusion on their property and into their lives.  Those who have benefited financially have a different perspective and have been able to adapt, but for many – and for the environment as a whole–recent shale gas drilling and its associated facilities have brought more problems than solutions.

The industry is voracious when it comes to water.  Many millions of gallons are needed for each well, underground injection of the waste water is literally earth shattering, and above ground treatment of the heavily salt laden waste water laced with naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) is experimental at best.

Pipelines are monumental, compressor stations belch out bad air, processing plants, cracker plants, and pipelines all bring their own series of problems.

Along with other local and regional groups Highlands Conservancy comments on permits, testifies at public hearings, monitors streams as part of the WV Rivers Coalition and Trout Unlimited program, and participats in administrative and legal appeals with partner groups – the most recent being an appeal of an enormous salt waste landfill that is part of the Antero Clearwater waste water treatment facility in Doddridge County west of Clarksburg.


Whether threatened by highways, timbering, overdevelopment, or extraction of minerals, protecting the National Forests of West Virginia was an underlying concern of the founders of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.

With the boom of shale drilling throughout West Virginia, the proliferation of gas wells has been overwhelming, especially in the northwest counties. As many predicted the bubble has burst and the market for gas has plummeted. But the push is on to move the gas to the east coast and overseas markets to once again stimulate more drilling.

A multitude of questions have arisen about the careless construction of the many in-state gathering pipelines and about the actual need for all the major transmission pipelines being proposed to cut through vulnerable portions of the state, especially National Forest Lands, trout streams, and areas super vulnerable to sediment and spills from pipeline construction where the earth is underlain with caves and karst geology.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline (Dominion), Mountain Valley Pipeline (EQT), and WB Xpress and Mountaineer Xpress pipelines (Columbia Gas) are among those of particular concern.  Where are the markets for the gas? Who benefits from the pipelines? Which of the lines deliver gas to local communities in West Virginia and Virginia? Do we need ALL of these pipelines?

West Virginia Highlands Conservancy has joined local and regional partners in opposing construction of pipelines that will carve up public lands and damage mountain streams and important geological features of the region.  We are participating in Federal review of the major transmission lines and meeting with state agencies responsible for overseeing state permitting.

A First for the Highlands Voice

In addition to whatever else the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy has done concerning gas drilling, The Highlands Voice can claim a first: it was the first West Virginia publication to predict the coming drilling in the Marcellus Shale.

The April, 2008, issue of The Highlands Voice contained this headline

“WEST VIRGINIA: THE NEW TEXAS?” with the sub-headline “Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Drilling Coming to a Town Near You!”  The story came from a reader in Texas who had studied the shale gas drilling in the Barnett Shale in Texas.  She offered her insights into the effect that the drilling had on communities and economies, including the observation that West Virginia should manage the development so that the economic benefit is widespread.  She also advised landowner preparation and self-education in advance of negotiating a lease.

So far as I have been able to determine, this was the first story about Marcellus drilling in a West Virginia publication.  The Charleston Gazette had a story at about the same time.  Because it is a daily publication, its story may have hit the streets before ours did.  The Highlands Voice was the first publication to have a story laid out and to the printer.