fracking

Brittany Patterson

William Suan is no stranger to the problems abandoned oil and gas wells can cause.

“It's just an eyesore,” he said, standing inside a barn on his cattle ranch near Lost Creek, West Virginia. “I had to fence one off because it's leaking now.”

There are five inactive wells on his land, most installed in the '60s and '70s, and the companies that owned the wells have long since gone out of business.

On a recent rainy Monday, Suan treks down a muddy hill on the backside of his property. Hidden in the wooded thicket is a three-foot-tall rusted tube jutting out of the ground.


Brittany Patterson

On a recent chilly Tuesday morning, about 20 people filed along a winding dirt path leading deeper into West Virginia University’s Arboretum in Morgantown.

Armed with binoculars, smartphones and hiking boots, the group had one goal — spot and identify the chittering birds hidden in the trees above.

LeJay Graffious with the Mountaineer Audubon chapter led the bird walk.


Bill Hughes

Radioactive waste illegally dumped in an Estill County landfill will likely stay in the ground after state regulators approved a corrective action plan last week.

The plan laid out two options: enclose the low-level radioactive material in the landfill, or excavate it and dump it somewhere else.

Environmental advocates say the only safe long-term plan is to remove the waste, but state regulators agreed with landfill operators.


Fracking Waste Disposal: Still A Hot Mess

Feb 16, 2018
Bill Hughes

The slogan for Estill County is “where the bluegrass kisses the mountains.” But since 2015 the county, population 15,000, is widely known as the place where radioactive material generated by the oil and gas industry in a process known as fracking was dumped near some schools.

As the Ohio Valley ReSource reported in 2016, tons of waste from the drilling practice known as fracking was hauled from state to state before being improperly disposed of in a county landfill not designed to hold radioactive material.


Jesse Wright, WVPB

Big-ticket gas pipelines and other energy projects pending in the Ohio Valley have largely been in limbo because the federal body that issues important permits had too many empty seats.

Those projects in the pipeline of the federal process could soon move forward with the confirmation of two Republicans nominated by President Donald Trump to serve on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC.

The Senate confirmed nominations for former Senate aide Neil Chatterjee and Pennsylvania utility regulator Robert Powelson.

Wikimedia Commons

A coalition of environmental groups is formally protesting the upcoming auction of federal lands in Western Kentucky for possible oil and gas drilling.

The administrative protest was filed last week by groups including the Center for Biological Diversity, the Kentucky Conservation Committee, the Sierra Club and others.

At issue is the proposed auction of 184 acres in Union County. The land is part of the Sloughs Wildlife Management Area; in total, the WMA is more than 11,000 acres owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and licensed to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife. The Bureau of Land Management wants to auction off the land’s oil and gas leases in September, though they note that the leases won’t include any surface disturbance.

Bill Hughes

At a committee hearing on Tuesday, state lawmakers discussed how 400 tons of low-level radioactive waste ended up in a landfill in Estill County.

The waste is the result of backflow produced from the natural gas extraction method called horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or, “fracking.”

Earlier this year, state officials acknowledged that the waste from fracking sites in West Virginia ended up in Irvine, Kentucky’s Blue Ridge Landfill, which is operated by Advanced Disposal.

The company has said it didn’t knowingly accept any illegal waste.

Estill County Judge Executive Wallace Taylor said that waste from the deep-drilling process needs to be better regulated.

“We cannot let some large corporation come in and think they can push over what some think as hillbillies,” Taylor said during a Natural Resources and Environment committee hearing on Tuesday.

Bill Hughes

This piece was produced in partnership with the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan, nonprofit investigative news organization.

The energy that lights up, turns on, cools and heats our lives leaves a trail of waste. Natural gas is no exception. The waste from the gas drilling known as “fracking” is often radioactive. The gas industry produces thousands of tons of this “hot” waste and companies and state regulators throughout the Ohio River valley and Marcellus Shale gas region struggle to find safe ways to get rid of it.

Last August a convoy of trucks carrying a concentrated form of this waste traveled from northern West Virginia to Irvine, Kentucky. The small town in Estill County lies near the Kentucky River, where Appalachian hills give way to rolling farm country.

The trucks were headed for a municipal waste facility called Blue Ridge Landfill. Just across Highway 89 from the landfill is the home where Denny and Vivian Smith live on property where their ancestors have lived since the 1800s.

“This is our home place,” Vivian Smith said from her sun porch. “This is roots for us.”

Wikimedia Commons

There’s still a lot of interest in the possibility of large-scale gas and oil drilling in Eastern Kentucky, but activity in the Rogersville Shale has slowed over the past few months.

The Rogersville Shale is a Cambrian-age formation that lies under much of Eastern Kentucky and extends into West Virginia. Over the past two years, speculation has grown that the shale play could be as big as or bigger than the Marcellus and Utica shales, which spurred a wave of interest in the region. Many landowners in Lawrence County, Kentucky, reported visits by landmen looking to lease their mineral rights.

Drilling into shale like the Rogersville requires large-scale hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The technique involves injecting large quantities of water and sand into the wells to release more oil and gas.

Dave Harris of the Kentucky Geological Survey said so far, five test wells have been drilled into the Rogersville. Four of those are in Kentucky and one is in West Virginia.

Fracking Could Keep Tourists Away From Kentucky Parks

Sep 11, 2015
Kentucky Waterways Alliance

A new study finds that hydraulic facturing, or “fracking,” in or near public parks could cause tourists to stay away.  Kentucky residents are more likely than park users in the four other states surveyed to avoid areas near fracking. 

The study examined the perception of fracking by 255 people who go to public parks in  Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and West Virginia. Thirty-three of them were from Kentucky.

One member of the research team was Tim Kellison, an assistant professor of tourism, recreation  and sport management at the University of Florida.

"Fifty-one percent of Kentuckians said they were unwilling to participate in recreational activities near a fracking operation," said Kellison. "Thirty-eight percent of our five-state sample said that, so about a 13 point difference.”

Kentucky residents who responded to the survey said they go to seven different state and national parks, including Barren River Lake State Resort Park, Cumberland Falls State Park, Mammoth Cave National Park, E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park, Iroquois Park, Big Bone Lick State and Natural Bridge State Park.

Members of the research team were also from Florida State University and North Carolina State University.

The report of the study, “Fracking and Parkland: Understanding the Impact of Hydraulic Fracturing on Public Park Usage,” is available at  http://www.stadiatrack.com/fracking.

As natural gas speculation increases in the Rogersville Shale in Eastern Kentucky, scientists are beginning research into the region’s existing seismic activity.

Right now, several test wells have been drilled into the Rogersville, which is thought to cover 4 million acres in Kentucky and West Virginia. The results of those test wells are confidential, but if the reserves prove profitable, companies could begin drilling large-scale oil and natural gas wells in the formation.

Tapping the Rogersville will also involve hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Fracking is used to extract oil and gas from deep below the earth; the practice includes injecting water and chemicals miles underground. The dirty water is eventually discarded in deep disposal wells. In some oil and gas drilling areas, numerous earthquakes have been recorded, and scientists are becoming more confident that these quakes are linked to the industry.

From the Associated Press:

Earthquake activity in Oklahoma in 2013 was 70 times greater than it was before 2008, state geologists reported. Oklahoma historically recorded an average of 1.5 quakes of magnitude 3 or greater each year. It is now seeing an average of 2.5 such quakes each day, according to geologists.

Additional regulations regarding hydraulic fracking appear headed for legislative approval in Frankfort. Supporters of the measure include members of the oil and gas industry.

A group of farmers, environmental activists, and members of the oil and gas industry have worked together on the bill for months. Andrew McNeil with Kentucky's Oil and Gas Association called it 'consensus legislation.' "They're regulations that we think meet the needs of protecting the environment, but it's not gonna be something that will create an impediment to investment," said McNeil.

McNeil says there is interest in deep shale development in eastern Kentucky. He says the job potential is significant.

Tom Fitzgerald with the Kentucky Resources Council says passage of this bill wouldn't mean a major increase in fracking. "The precipitous decline in the cost of natural gas means that that production will be slowing, not increasing," said Fitzgerald. "This will not pave the way for more hydraulic fracking."

Fitzgerald says the bill requires pre and post water quality testing, and extends the requirement for a reclamation plan to all oil and gas operations.

Kentucky LRC

With support from an unlikely partnership of industry and environmental advocates, a Kentucky House committee on Tuesday approved a bill that would regulate hydraulic fracturing—or fracking—for natural gas.

The fracking process extracts natural gas by drilling deep into the earth and injecting water, sand and chemicals to release gas from shale formations up sometimes over two miles underground.

The House proposal would impose several regulations on the fracking industry, including water quality testing near injection sites, disclosure of the chemicals that are injected underground and a requirement that companies protect or reclaim land around injection sites.

“It’s not only good for the oil and gas industry but it’s good for environmental protection purposes as well,” said House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, a Democrat from Sandy Hook who sponsored the bill.

Tom FitzGerald, director of environmental group the Kentucky Resources Council, said there are “arguments to be made” that fracking has more negative than positive impacts, But he nonetheless supported the bill, saying it would regulate fracking’s inevitable growth in the state.

Is Fracking Coming to the Cumberlands?

Jan 9, 2015

Speculation has begun in Eastern Kentucky about a potentially large reserve of oil and natural gas trapped about two miles underground. If the Rogersville Shale is proven productive, it would be the region’s first major oil and gas play. This has excited the industry, but some residents are worried about the toll large-scale oil and gas production would take on human health and the environment.