New Martinsville Likely to Overturn Ban

NEW MARTINSVILLE – Natural gas drilling activity may not be considered a public nuisance in New Martinsville for much longer because City Council is holding a special meeting to overturn its recently passed ordinance.

The special session – set for 3 p.m. Friday in the council conference room of the City Building, 191 Main St. – comes after council took public comments about the law members passed in July that declares drilling and its associated activities a public nuisance.

“I really took exception to having our industry called a nuisance,” Michael McCown, president of the Independent Oil & Gas Association of West Virginia, said.

Last week McCown called New Martinsville’s law “ill-conceived” and asked drillers to question whether they should do business in a city in which their activities are banned. He said Wednesday his industry would “embrace” New Martinsville if council lifts the drilling ban.

Councilwoman Holly Grandstaff plans on voting to overturn the ban and believes most of her fellow members will follow suit.

“It seems like it will be rescinded, and I will certainly vote to rescind it,” she said. “All of the drilling companies have been very nice to us. As long as our water is going to be safe, I don’t see any reason for that ordinance to read like that.”

The New Martinsville ordinance – which came into law during the July 6 meeting – states that the “exploration, extraction, production, development, mining, leasing and/or drilling for oil, gas … ” shall be forbidden.

The ordinance continues that the presence of “machinery proposed or intended to be used for or in connection with the production of oil and gas on any private or public property within the corporate limits is strictly prohibited and shall constitute a public nuisance.”

New Martinsville council further declared that “drilling for oil, gas or other hydrocarbons within the corporate limits is a nuisance detrimental to the health, safety and general welfare of the public with deleterious effects and that it is in the best interest of the community to strictly prohibit such activities.”

“We just didn’t think it was going to do all of that. We thought it was really just about protecting our water,” Grandstaff said.

Unlike many cities along the Ohio River, New Martinsville gets all of its water from wells. While some have expressed concerns that Marcellus Shale drilling and fracking may lead to contamination of drinking water wells, gas industry officials have repeatedly said the steel and concrete casings they use in their wells prevent any such contamination.

Officials with Chesapeake Energy, the most active gas driller in West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle, met with New Martinsville officials to discuss a way to deal with their concerns.

“We believe the repeal is the right thing to do and are hopeful that will be council’s decision on Friday. We remain available and willing to educate the public about our operations and the steps taken to keep residents and the environment safe,” said Chesapeake Director of Corporate Development Stacey Brodak.

One of the local companies doing significant business with the gas drillers is Quinet’s Court Restaurant. It has has sported a sign outside its door stating, “We cater to on site frac(k) and drilling jobs.” Restaurant owner, Matt Quinet, hopes the ban will be overturned.

“I personally appreciate what Chesapeake and the other drillers have done for this town,” he said. “Our business has doubled since they came here in 2009,” he said, noting his business has doubled because of the drilling activity.

John Mensore, owner of J.C. Mensore Distributors Inc., said New Martinsville was “dying” before the drillers came.

“We are a poor area, and this is revitalizing us,” he said.

Corky DeMarco, executive director of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, hopes cities like New Martinsville and Morgantown will reconsider their bans and allow state officials with the Department of Environmental Protection to decide where gas wells should go.

“I’m glad to see they came to their senses,” he said of New Martinsville leaders.

New Martinsville officials look to join Wellsburg City Council in repealing an ordinance they passed to prohibit drilling. Morgantown officials are working to keep their ban in place.

Amy Witschey contributed to this report.