MOUNDSVILLE - As they install pipelines across Marshall County, some subcontractors working for Dominion Resources and other companies are creating a headache for George Lagos and his small staff of water department employees.
As Dominion prepares to open its $500 million natural gas processing complex later this year, the company needs the pipelines to help supply the Natrium plant. Dominion is not the only company installing pipelines in the county, as MarkWest Energy and other companies are also laying pipeline networks to establish a mode of transportation for the natural gas, oil, ethane, butane and propane drilling can extract from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations.
However, Lagos said there are many instances when companies, such as Dominion, are not following the proper procedures when digging around the PSD's waterlines, exposing them to sunlight that could potentially cause bacteria to grow in residents' water.
Photos by Casey Junkins
As pipeliners subcontracted by Dominion Resources install natural gas lines near U.S. 250 in the Fort Beeler area of Marshall County, local water officials are concerned the gas lines are too close to the exposed waterlines. Here, water officials say the blue waterline is not being properly handled by the pipeliners.
"All of these outfits know what they are supposed to do. Whether or not they do it is another story," said Lagos, general manager and chief operator for Marshall County Public Service District No. 4, who in a previous report said some gas drillers were taking water from local fire hydrants for use at fracking sites.
"We've got a lot of problems out here now, but most of them could probably be solved with some better communication," he said.
For example, Lagos last week found some pipeliners building for Dominion along Bane Lane in the Beelers Station area of the county, along U.S. 250, roughly halfway between Moundsville and Cameron.
Lagos said he did not receive any notice the pipeliners would be there that day, noting they are supposed to give him a 48-hour notice of when they are going to stretch their gas lines past his waterlines.
And upon walking up to inspect the site, Lagos found one of his active waterlines dangling above a new gas pipeline.
The waterline, exposed to the sun, was suspended above the hole via ropes attached to a cut tree branch.
The small blue waterline was sitting close to the new gas lines, and there were no sandbags between the lines and the excavated earth.
"There should be a 3-foot distance between our lines and their lines," Lagos said after speaking with a pipeline foreman, who assured him the problem would be corrected.
"There should be sandbags all the way from the bottom of the ditch, all the way to the top of the waterline. It takes them time to sandbag it the way they are supposed to do," he said.
Lagos said having an active waterline that is delivering water to his customers totally exposed to the summer sun opens the possibility of bacterial growth in the water passing through the line.
"It's not these guys' fault. It is an absolute communication breakdown between the supervisors, the gas companies and us," he added.
Dominion spokesman Charles Penn said pipeliners working for his company plan to meet with PSD officials to ensure that Dominion explicitly understands the PSD's procedures and expectations and are fully compliant with them.
"We are aware of the PSD's concerns, and we are now aware of their requirements of a 48-hour notice and how they want us to handle their waterlines, and we will certainly adhere to their requirements," said Penn.
Lagos said he appreciates Dominion stepping forward, but emphasized PSD officials told Dominion about this on a prior occasion.
"We have been pretty clear on this all the way through," he said. "All we ask for is some notice so we can see what they're doing, and for them to keep our waterlines insulated with sandbags the way they are supposed to do."
Lagos said while this particular issue arose from a Dominion project, there are plenty of other companies laying pipelines in Marshall County that are causing problems.
"The district is at wits end to come up with a solution to our situation out here. We just have myself and two other guys to try to cover 200 miles of water mains and other lines," he said. "We can't raise water rates on our customers to pay for more workers."
Lagos said there at least nine other gas pipeline projects happening in his district right now - and that problems with water happen virtually every day.
"There were four instances of one company boring under or exposing our lines in one day," he said. "Some of them just seem to do whatever, whenever."
In terms of a solution, Lagos said all he is really looking for is better communication from the pipeliners about when they are going to cross his waterlines.
"I want to see these people do this in an orderly fashion," he said. "While we want a two-day notice of when they are going to cross our lines, we would even settle for a one-day notice. All these guys have my phone numbers, so all they have to do is call me when they are getting ready to do it."
Lagos is also still looking for frackers who may be taking water from his fire hydrants for use at drilling sites or on the roads. The Public Service Commission of West Virginia recently issued a public warning against those who may be doing this.
"See, all of these mishaps cost our district money," he said. "We've got to stay ahead of this as best we can, and all we ask is for the pipeliners and drillers to follow the law."