With passion and frustration, area residents spoke in opposition Wednesday to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection reissuing a permit for an under ground injection disposal well for a facility in Trap Hill operated by Base Petroleum.
The injection well has been in operation since the late 1990s and is located along Claypool Branch near Daniels Creek, a tributary of Marsh Fork Creek and ultimately of Coal River.
“I’m sick and tired of spending the last eight years of my life begging for clean water,” said Paula Swearengin, Glen Daniel resident and volunteer for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. “Clean up your mess, make the state clean up its mess, and put public health and safety first because we deserve a healthy economic future and just a plain healthy future.”
Hasn’t the area suffered enough? she asked. She explained that Fayette County has recently passed an ordinance to ban the disposal of fracking waste, and she doesn’t believe Raleigh wants to take the waste either.
Many of the speakers who live along Coal River Road said they have directly experienced the burden of extractive industry pollution and don’t trust the DEP to adequately monitor permit sites.
Junior Walk said he grew up in Eunice, near Whitesville. Coal slurry was injected into an old mine above his parent’s house and it leaked into the community’s wells.
“People got sick. People are still sick. What do you think is going to happen here? The exact same thing,” he said.
Charles “Chuck” Nelson, a native of Sylvester, said he is a fourth generation coal miner and worked in the industry for 30 years.
He began advocating for health and safety in coal and natural gas producing communities after seeing community members in isolated areas fall ill.
“I’m tired of seeing people dying because of these injection sites,” he said. “They say they can monitor this stuff, but once it goes deep into the ground there is no way you can trace where it is going to.”
He stressed that many people in the area still rely on well water, which is vulnerable to contamination.
Raleigh resident Basil Keaton said he is extremely concerned about injection well oversight.
What is injected today is significantly more toxic than fluids injected when the well was first permitted for disposal use in 1996, he said. While there is monitoring near the well head, he said there is no way to monitor if it migrates underground.
He also noted that the exact contents of hydraulic fracturing fluid is proprietary and has never been divulged.
“I’m begging you to please not let this permit go through. Do something good for West Virginia,” he urged.
Friends of Water founder Chris Hale, Beckley resident, said he visited Claypool Branch April 19 and saw a shimmering sheen on its surface, which indicates petroleum-based pollutants.
Recent sampling and peer-reviewed reports indicate injection wells are leaking, he said. Duke University experts documented pollutants at Lochgelly, Fayette County, and Wheeling Jesuit University experts in Richie County, said Hale.
“Our most important and valuable resource in West Virginia isn’t coal or natural gas. We are the headwaters state,” he said. “DHHR (Department of Health and Human Resources) and DEP are failing us by putting us in harm’s way.”
Gene Smith, assistant chief of permitting, said the underground injection control well program is based upon protecting groundwater.
The wells dispose of brine waste deep into the earth, below aquifer production and into geographic layers that produce oil and gas.
Andrew Lockwood, DEP geologist, said the well is enclosed in steel and cement-reinforced casings. Waste would trigger two monitors before even reaching the cement casing, he explained.
He noted that each time a permit is issued, the DEP conducts aquifer water testing and sampling of surrounding waters.
Written public comments on the permit renewal may be submitted by mail, fax or email through May 2.
Written comments should include the name, address and telephone number of the writer and a concise statement of the nature of the issues being raised.
Written comments may be sent to West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, Office of Oil and Gas, UIC Comments, 601 57th Street SE, Charleston, WV 25304.
Fax comments to 304-926-0452 with “UIC Comments” written near the top or email comments to DEPOOGEP@wv.gov with “UIC Comments” in the subject line.
— Email: splummer@
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