NEW MARTINSVILLE - Despite residents' concerns, Chesapeake Energy can begin installing 18 large compressors within a 3-mile area in Wetzel County as part of its natural gas drilling operations.
Officials with the state Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Air Quality last month issued permits for Chesapeake to construct the compressors.
Chesapeake Director of Corporate Development Stacey Brodak, in an e-mailed statement, said, "We are building compressor stations in Wetzel County to be able to get more clean burning natural gas to market, and create more wealth for landowners in the northern part of West Virginia. Compression is a necessary part of natural gas production in this part of the Marcellus Shale."
File Photo by Casey Junkins
The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection will allow Chesapeake Energy to install 18 large compressors within a 3-mile area in Wetzel County.
Bill Hughes, a member of the Wetzel County Action Group that seeks to protect the county's environment, believes the state is not considering the cumulative effects Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling is having in the area. He said the air quality in some portions of Wetzel County is so bad at certain times that it causes some residents to "fear for their lives."
"They should get some monitors out here to see what is in this air - no one in this state knows what this gas drilling is putting into our air," Hughes said. "The (Division of Air Quality) does not know what the air quality is in this area."
Jerry Williams, an engineer with the Division of Air Quality, said employees maintain air quality monitors in Marshall, Ohio, Brooke, Hancock, Marion and Monongalia counties, but none in Wetzel County.
"Population and industry levels are factors we consider in monitoring the air," he said, noting the proposed compressor stations will be located in a rural area.
Brodak said all sources of air emissions are subject to regulation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Air Act.
"West Virginia has adopted a state implementation plan that is approved by the EPA to ensure that federal air quality standards are maintained. These facilities are authorized by the West Virginia DEP to operate as minor sources," she said.
One of the main issues Hughes and others wanted the state to consider with the permits was whether multiple sources of pollution - namely the 18 compressors - should be counted as one source. Williams said the department could not do this because the facilities will only be connected by a pipeline.
"Just being connected by a pipeline does not make them contiguous and adjacent, as EPA requires in aggregating the sources," Williams said of the compressors.
Hughes said another problem is that the air quality department has no authority over natural gas wells, which fall under the jurisdiction of the DEP's Office of Oil and Gas. Moreover, those employees in the petroleum office have no authority to regulate air emissions. Williams confirmed this as a predicament for the state.
"We are assigned to enforce West Virginia Code," Williams added.
Noting his group is not opposed to Marcellus Shale drilling, Hughes said the state needs to take better notice of how the activity is affecting its residents.
"We are not out to stop development. We just want it done reasonably so that our grandchildren are not paying for it," he said.