fracking

Glynis Board

An analysis of natural gas production in the Ohio Valley finds that the biggest gas producing counties in the region suffered economically over the past decade compared to the rest of the country, although natural gas production was high. 

The report released Wednesday by the Ohio River Valley Institute, a nonprofit think tank, shows that 22 counties in Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania produced more than 90% of the region’s natural gas, but saw declines in their share of income, population, and jobs between 2008 and 2019. Personal income and job growth in those counties lagged far behind the national average, and population declined.

Benny Becker I Ohio Valley ReSource

"You seen that one with the tombstone up there?" seven-year-old Timothy Easterling asks, looking toward the grass just uphill from his home. "That's my papaw."

Timothy’s grandfather Chet Blankenship died in 2016, at age 69. Blankenship lived on land he and his family have long owned at the end of a road atop Bradshaw Mountain in McDowell County, West Virginia. His hand-painted tombstone sits in the grassy patch above the family homes.

Blankenship’s daughter Melissa Easterling now lives in the house next door with her husband, Chauncy Easterling, who grew up on a nearby ridge. They live together with their son Timothy, and usually one or two foster children.


White House video

President Donald Trump Tuesday toured Shell Chemical’s soon-to-be completed ethane cracker complex in Monaca, Pennsylvania, to tout his administration’s commitment to expanding energy production. The facility is part of what industry boosters hope will be a new plastics and chemical manufacturing base in the upper Ohio Valley, but many residents here worry about the heat-trapping gases and plastic waste such an industry would produce.

Speaking to a crowd of a few thousand construction workers, Trump said investment in plastics and other petrochemical plants in the Ohio Valley could greatly benefit the region. He touted the vast reserves of natural gas and natural gas liquids contained in the Marcellus Shale, which extends throughout much of the Appalachian basin.

Brittany Patterson

Janet Clayton is standing thigh-deep in a back channel of the Elk River. Clad in a wetsuit and knee pads, the silver-haired biologist with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources reaches into a bright orange mesh bag submerged in water.

Inside are a half dozen mussels she plucked from the rocky river bottom.

“This is called a long solid,” Clayton says. An earthy colored shell about the size of a computer mouse sits in the palm of her hand. “As it gets older it gets really long.”


Brittany Patterson

More than 100 people braved freezing temperatures to both listen and have their say in front of Ohio environmental officials at a recent hearing in Belmont County, Ohio. For the three dozen or so people who testified, the stakes were high.

The hearing at Shadyside High School focused on a nearly 300-page, densely technical, draft air quality permit. The permit is one more step towards a massive, multi-billion dollar petrochemical plant proposed for the banks of the Ohio River just a few miles away from the auditorium.


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.

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