West Virginia and fracking

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This map to the right shows the number of Marcellus Shale permits granted by county in West Virginia from 2006 - 2011.

Photo courtesy of FracTracker

Data released by DrillingInfo in late 2015 reported that permits issued for the Marcellus region was 68 in October, down from 76 in September 2015. Additionally, there were 160 permits issued in June 2015. At the same period in 2010, during the fracking boom in the region, 600 permits were issued a month. The steady decrease in global oil prices was said to be resonsible for the decline in the number of fracking permits.[1]

Environmental and health impacts


In February 2011, the NY Times reported that a never-released study by the EPA and a confidential study by the drilling industry concluded that radioactivity in drilling waste cannot be fully diluted in rivers and other waterways, yet federal and state regulators are allowing most sewage treatment plants that accept drilling waste not to test for radioactivity. In West Virginia, a plant in Wheeling discharged gas-drilling wastewater into the Ohio River. Pennsylvania has sent some of its fracking waste to West Virginia for disposal.[2]

The Times also reported that "a 1987 report to Congress by the Environmental Protection Agency that deals with waste from the exploration, development and production of oil, natural gas and geothermal energy ... states that hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking, can cause groundwater contamination. It cites as an example a case in which hydraulic fracturing fluids contaminated a water well in West Virginia. The report also describes the difficulties that sealed court settlements created for investigators." The report concluded that hydraulic fracturing fluids or gel used by Kaiser Exploration and Mining Company contaminated a well roughly 600 feet away on the property of James Parsons in Jackson County, West Virginia. The report contradicts prior statements by the oil and gas industry that there had never been a documented case of contamination, helping the industry avoid federal regulations.[3]

A study released in January 2015 in the Environmental Science & Technology, authored by Avner Vengosh and Gary Dwyer of Duke University, found that high levels of two potentially hazardous contaminants, ammonium and iodide, were being discharged or spilled into streams and rivers from oil and gas operations in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The authors found that the levels of contamination were as high in fracking wastewater as those coming from conventional oil and gas wells.

"Wastewater from both conventional and unconventional oil and gas operations is exempted from the Clean Water Act, which allows their disposal to the environment. This practice is clearly damaging the environment and increases the health risks of people living in these areas, and thus should be stopped," Vengosh said.[4]

Wastewater pits

As reported in The Columbus Dispatch, fracking wastewater impoundment lots as big as football fields already dot heavily fracked landscapes in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The impoundments store millions of gallons of water with fracking chemicals, toxic metals, and radium that come up from shale wells. Companies clean the water of pollutants so it can be recycled to frack new wells.[5]

In Pennsylvania, wastewater must be removed within nine months of competed drilling at a site, according to the DEP. The state has permits for 23 such lagoons.[5]

A West Virginia University study of 15 waste and freshwater lagoons in that state found that eight were built to contain more water than permitted, or had structural problems that threatened leaks.[5]

Wastewater and landfills

A new state rule passed quietly in 2013 specifies that landfills can accept unlimited amounts of solid waste from horizontal gas drilling, carving out an exception to a decades-old state law that limited landfills’ intake to only 10,000 or 30,000 tons a month (depending on their classification). The drilling waste is a sludgy mix of dirt, water, sand, and chemicals dredged up in the drilling process.[6]

In 2013 West Virginia landfills accepted 721,000 tons of drilling waste.[7]

Wastewater reuse

Almost one-half of flowback fluid recovered in West Virginia is transported out of state. Between 2010 and 2012, 22% of recovered flowback fluid was sent to Pennsylvania, primarily to be reused in other Marcellus operations, and 21% was sent to Ohio, primarily for disposal via underground injection control wells.[8]

Water use

The volume of water removed from the hydrologic cycle per unit of gas produced in West Virginia wells ranges from 1.6 to 2.2 gallons per thousand cubic feet. Gas producers in West Virginia used an average of 5 million gallons of fresh water for each well, according to publicly available numbers for 2010-2012.[8]

A 2015 Stanford study found that West Virginia, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania had the highest average water use per each hydraulic fracturing job.[9]

Water contamination

From 2010-2014 West Virginia had 122 complaints that drilling contaminated water wells in the state. Four of those cases were strong enough to force drillers to take corrective action.[10]

A January 2015 Environmental Science & Technology study reported that two hazardous chemicals associated with fracking—ammonium and iodide—were being released and spilled into Pennsylvania and West Virginia waterways. The chemicals could have devastating impacts on the environment and wildlife, the study noted. The fracking associated chemicals were "making their way into streams and rivers, both accidentally and through deliberate release from treatment plants that were never designed to handle these contaminants." Both of these chemicals are not currently regulated in oil and gas wastewater.[11]

Drilling permits

In 2009, 426 Marcellus wells were permitted and 125 were drilled in West Virginia. The following year 433 were permitted and 58 drilled in the state.[12]

Fracking under Ohio River

In December 2014 state officials in West Virginia announced they would permit fracking under the Ohio River. Critics contended that fracking near a freshwater supply like the Ohio River could contaminate drinking water supplies for thousands of people.[13]

Citizen activism


In September 2012 environmental groups in West Virginia called for a moratorium on new drilling for natural gas in the state citing environmental concerns. The groups, including Sierra Club and the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, called for the ban at a state capitol press conference in Charleston. The groups made a similar plea one year earlier.[14]


In April 2013 a judge recognized that a company could be trespassing on one's property by hydraulic fracturing. In West Virginia, U.S. District Judge John Preston Bailey denied a motion summary judgment filed by oil and gas producer defendants Chesapeake Appalachia, LLC, Statoil USA Onshore Properties, Inc. and Jamestown Resources, Inc. It was reported that in the case, "Chesapeake Appalachia drilled a horizontal Marcellus Shale well with a vertical well bore within 200 feet of the plaintiffs’ property and a horizontal well bore within “tens of feet” of the plaintiffs’ property. Although Chesapeake Appalachia maintains a lease for the oil and gas underlying the plaintiffs’ property, plaintiffs’ lease does not authorize pooling or unitization of the Marcellus formation."[15]

Legislative issues and regulations

On March 1, 2012, the Department of Justice said it was investigating possible environmental violations by Chesapeake Energy at three of its well sites in West Virginia, including possibile criminal violations and other liabilities under the Clean Water Act's prohibition against the filling or damming of wetlands, rivers, and streams without a federal permit. Penalties under the Clean Water Act could be as high as $37,500 per day, per violation. Criminal penalties could range from $2,500 to $25,000 per day, per misdemeanor, and between $5,000 and $50,000 per day for a felony.

Chesapeake's March 1, 2012 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission stated that the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection had issued orders for compliance related to alleged violations of the state's Dam Control and Safety Act at four structures constructed for Chesapeake.[16]

U.S. federal regulators fined Chesapeake Energy Corp $3.2 million to settle the company's Clean Water Act violations in West Virginia, issued on December 19, 2013. Chesapeake will also pay an estimated $6.5 million to restore streams and wetlands.[17]

According to a 2015 NRDC report West Virginia has less than 40 inspector for 56,814 active wells.[18]

Citizen groups

Industry groups


2015 Bacteria Creates Methane in Well

Some of the natural gas harvested by hydraulic fracturing operations may be of biological origin, but created by microorganisms inadvertently injected underground into shale by drillers during fracking.[19]

Ohio State University and West Virginia University scientists tested fluids taken from a well operated by Northeast Natural Energy in West Virginia. They measured the genes, enzymes and chemical isotopes in used fracturing fluid drawn from the well for more than a year.

Bacteria eat the fracking fluid and produce new chemicals, which other bacteria eat. Those bacteria then produce other chemicals, and then again other bacteria eat. The last metabolic step ends with a species of archaea producing methane.

Researchers have long known about the microbes present inside hydraulic fracturing wells and drillers inject commercially available biocides to keep microbes from clogging the equipment. Where the bacteria came from was unknown.

The biocides kill some types of bacteria, thereby enabling other bacteria and archaea to prosper. These survive in water that can be four times saltier than the ocean, and under pressures that are typically hundreds of times higher than on the surface of the earth. These microorganisms adapt by eating chemicals found in the fracking fluid and producing methane.

Northeast Natural Energy drilling manager claimed shale rock is packed so tight he was not sure much could be living there.[20]

The research found that pores inside shale may give microorganisms room to grow and access food.

This is the first detailed genomic analysis of bacteria and archaea microbes living in deep fractured shales.[21]

2015 Fracking May Lead Decline Visitation in Public Park

According to a study by researchers from the University of Florida, North Carolina State University, and Florida State University in August 2015, hydraulic fracturing in, or near, public park lands could prompt tourists to stay away. The study of 225 park users in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee found more than a third say they would be unwilling to participate in recreational activities near hydraulic fracturing.Fifty eight percent of the study's participants claim they would support legislation prohibiting fracking near their favorite park.[22]

2013 report on wastewater

2012 study compares West Virginia vs Wyoming coal and gas tax rate

The 2012 West Virginia Center for Budget Policy report, "Major Tax Responsibilities of Coal and Natural Gas Producers in Wyoming and West Virginia," compared the coal and natural gas state tax policies of Wyoming and West Virginia in 2008 and found that:

  • Wyoming collected approximately $2.1 billion in taxes from coal and natural gas producers, compared to $787 million in West Virginia.
  • Wyoming’s average effective tax rate on coal producers was 10.6 percent, compared to 6.5 percent in West Virginia.
  • The average effective tax rate on natural gas producers was 10.2 percent in Wyoming and 8.2 percent in West Virginia.
  • The average property tax rate for coal and natural producers in Wyoming was 4.8 percent for each industry, while the average property tax rate for natural gas was three percent and one percent for coal in West Virginia.
  • If West Virginia replaced its real and personal property tax scheme with Wyoming’s county gross production tax, it would have raised an additional $115 million in 2008.



  1. "Gas Slump Hits America's Biggest Fracking Field" Reuters, December 2, 2015.
  2. Ian Urbina, "Regulation Lax as Gas Wells’ Tainted Water Hits Rivers," NY Times, February 26, 2011.
  3. Ian Urbina, "A Tainted Water Well, and Concern There May Be More," NY Times, Aug. 3, 2011.
  4. "New Contaminants Found In Oil And Gas Wastewater" Duke Environment, January 14, 2015.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Spencer Hunt, "Big lagoons could hold Ohio fracking waste," The Columbus Dispatch, Oct 11, 2013.
  6. "Fracking waste fills WV landfills under new rule," AP, December 7, 2013.
  7. "Radioactive Waste Booms With Fracking as New Rules Mulled" Alex Nussbaum, Bloomberg, August 16, 2014.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Evan Hansen, Dustin Mulvaney, and Meghan Betcher, "Water Resource Reporting and Water Footprint from Marcellus Shale Development in West Virginia and Pennsylvania," Downstream Strategies and Earthworks, Oct 30, 2013.
  9. Evan Hansen, Dustin Mulvaney, and Meghan Betcher, "The Depths of Hydraulic Fracturing and Accompanying Water Use Across the United States," Environmental Science & Technology, July 2015.
  10. "Water in at least three U.S. states is polluted from FRACKING as hundreds of complaints are reported across the country" Associated Press, January 6, 2014.
  11. "Fracking Brings Ammonium and Iodide to Local Waterways" Marianne Lavelle and The Daily Climate, Scientific America, January 14, 2015.
  12. "What is Fracking?" FrackCheckWV, accessed August 5, 2015.
  13. "W.Va. OKs fracking under Ohio River; critics leery" Laura Arenschield, The Columbus Dispatch, December 8, 2014
  14. "West Virginia Gas Drilling Opponents Call For Halt To New Development" Huffington Post, September 11, 2012.
  15. "West Virginia judge recognizes trespass by hydraulic fracturing" ACC, April 23, 2013.
  16. "Chesapeake Energy facing DOJ investigation," AP, March 1, 2012.
  17. Nick Snow, "Chesapeake Appalachia settles federal water pollution charges," Oil and Gas Journal, Dec. 19, 2013.
  18. Amy Mall, "Fracking's Most Wanted: Lifting the Veil on Oil and Gas Company Spills and Violations," NDRC, April 2015.
  19. "Some gas produced by hydraulic fracturing comes from surprise source" Pam Frost Gorder, Phys.org, December 14, 2015.
  20. "Could deep-Earth microbes help us frack for oil?" Sean Cockerham, Mcclatchy Washington Bureau, Phys.org, August 3, 2015.
  21. "Some gas produced by hydraulic fracturing comes from surprise source" Pam Frost Gorder, Phys.org, December 14, 2015.
  22. "Fracking may lead to decline in visitation in public parks" Tim Kellison, UF News, August 27, 2015.

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