Meeting Used to Air Drilling Health Claims

TRIADELPHIA – Dr. Michael Blatt, Blanche Rybeck, Bill Hughes and others say air pollution from Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling is an issue environmental regulators need to take seriously.

“Because we cannot absolutely prove that this is going to kill us does not mean we should allow it to go on,” said Blatt, a physician specializing in lung and breathing problems who has practiced in the Wheeling area for 30 years, while speaking during the Tuesday West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Air Quality public hearing at West Liberty University’s Highlands Center.

Although the hearing officially only addressed Chesapeake Energy’s air quality permit application to emit certain pollutants – methane, carbon monoxide and formaldehyde – from the Dytko well pad along Stone Church Road, those in attendance took the opportunity to let the Division of Air Quality workers know they feel there are problems throughout West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle.

“The concept of aggregation is what the state of West Virginia needs to come to grips with,” said Wetzel County Action Group member Bill Hughes, whose organization has been speaking out about air pollution from gas drilling for a few years now.

Peering through a tube from a roll of paper towels, Hughes said this demonstrates how state officials evaluate the environmental impact of drilling sites. Instead, he said, regulators should consider pollution from drilling sites, compressor stations, processing plants and diesel motors in the large trucks used to move equipment as a cumulative environmental impact of gas drilling.

In addition to the pollution from the Dytko pad and all of the other well sites, Chesapeake – the only active Marcellus driller in Ohio, Brooke or Hancock counties – also will release similar emissions from its local compressor stations.

One of these is just off the Interstate 70 Dallas Pike exit near The Highlands, while another is in the Sand Hill area near the Marshall/Ohio county border.

The “potential to emit” amounts of sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde and other chemicals that may be released at the sites can vary, according to numerous legal advertisements posted by Chesapeake.

However, because the DEP’s air quality division does not measure the cumulative environmental impact of Chesapeake’s multiple sites throughout Ohio County, regulators evaluate each individual site on its own – without regard to how much pollution nearby similar well pads, compressor stations, processing plans or trucks will release.

“We look at these things one at a time, as if this is not going to add up into a larger problem,” Hughes added.

Chesapeake began drilling at the Dytko well site last year, but a rig was back on site last week to continue the process. As air quality Director John Benedict pointed out, his division of the DEP has nothing to do with allowing a company to drill a gas well, as those permits are obtained through the DEP’s Office of Oil and Gas. Benedict’s office only deals with the air pollution.

Stone Church Road resident Blatt and Dallas Pike Road resident Blanche Rybeck also expressed concern over the amount of noise being produced during Chesapeake’s drilling and fracking operations.

“The decibel level is pretty loud,” Blatt said, noting it is sometimes so bad that he and his neighbors need to wear earphones to go outside.

Rybeck said she lives in the middle of several drilling pads, noting that she has needed to wear ear plugs to “get a good night’s sleep” for a long time. She said last week, the pressure of the sound got so bad that she had to track down Chesapeake officials to ask them to build a sound barrier. Once the barrier was up, Rybeck said the situation improved somewhat.

“When the DEP considers applications from Chesapeake, they need to consider all the issues,” she said.

Wheeling Jesuit University biology professor Ben Stout expressed frustration while commenting, claiming that oil and gas industry leaders spend a lot of money to make sure the regulations are loose.

“They just overwhelm the people and overwhelm the regulators,” he said of the drillers.

Ohio County resident Christine Bonfili, who collected signatures for a petition she sent to the DEP to protest Chesapeake’s plans to drill 1,300 feet from Wheeling Park High School, said there should be a moratorium on future drilling in the state.

“Here in West Virginia, we are being bombarded by this industry. Other states are looking at us as a guinea pig,” she said.