West Virginia and fracking

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This map shows the number of Marcellus Shale permits granted by county in West Virginia from 2006 - 2011.

Photo courtesy of FracTracker

Environmental and health impacts


In February 2011, the NY Times reported that a never-released study by the EPA and a confidential study by the drilling industry concluded that radioactivity in drilling waste cannot be fully diluted in rivers and other waterways, yet federal and state regulators are allowing most sewage treatment plants that accept drilling waste not to test for radioactivity. In West Virginia, a plant in Wheeling discharged gas-drilling wastewater into the Ohio River. Pennsylvania has sent some of its fracking waste to West Virginia for disposal.[1]

The Times also reported that "a 1987 report to Congress by the Environmental Protection Agency that deals with waste from the exploration, development and production of oil, natural gas and geothermal energy ... states that hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking, can cause groundwater contamination. It cites as an example a case in which hydraulic fracturing fluids contaminated a water well in West Virginia. The report also describes the difficulties that sealed court settlements created for investigators." The report concluded that hydraulic fracturing fluids or gel used by Kaiser Exploration and Mining Company contaminated a well roughly 600 feet away on the property of James Parsons in Jackson County, West Virginia. The report contradicts prior statements by the oil and gas industry that there had never been a documented case of contamination, helping the industry avoid federal regulations.[2]

A study released in January 2015 in the Environmental Science & Technology, authored by Avner Vengosh and Gary Dwyer of Duke University, found that high levels of two potentially hazardous contaminants, ammonium and iodide, were being discharged or spilled into streams and rivers from oil and gas operations in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The authors found that the levels of contamination were as high in fracking wastewater as those coming from conventional oil and gas wells.

"Wastewater from both conventional and unconventional oil and gas operations is exempted from the Clean Water Act, which allows their disposal to the environment. This practice is clearly damaging the environment and increases the health risks of people living in these areas, and thus should be stopped," Vengosh said.[3]

Wastewater pits

As reported in The Columbus Dispatch, fracking wastewater impoundment lots as big as football fields already dot heavily fracked landscapes in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The impoundments store millions of gallons of water with fracking chemicals, toxic metals, and radium that come up from shale wells. Companies clean the water of pollutants so it can be recycled to frack new wells.[4]

In Pennsylvania, wastewater must be removed within nine months of competed drilling at a site, according to the DEP. The state has permits for 23 such lagoons.[4]

A West Virginia University study of 15 waste and freshwater lagoons in that state found that eight were built to contain more water than permitted, or had structural problems that threatened leaks.[4]

Wastewater and landfills

A new state rule passed quietly in 2013 specifies that landfills can accept unlimited amounts of solid waste from horizontal gas drilling, carving out an exception to a decades-old state law that limited landfills’ intake to only 10,000 or 30,000 tons a month (depending on their classification). The drilling waste is a sludgy mix of dirt, water, sand, and chemicals dredged up in the drilling process.[5]

Wastewater reuse

Almost one-half of flowback fluid recovered in West Virginia is transported out of state. Between 2010 and 2012, 22% of recovered flowback fluid was sent to Pennsylvania, primarily to be reused in other Marcellus operations, and 21% was sent to Ohio, primarily for disposal via underground injection control wells.[6]

Water use

The volume of water removed from the hydrologic cycle per unit of gas produced in West Virginia wells ranges from 1.6 to 2.2 gallons per thousand cubic feet. Gas producers in West Virginia used an average of 5 million gallons of fresh water for each well, according to publicly available numbers for 2010-2012.[6]

Citizen activism


In April 2013 a judge recognized that a company could be trespassing on one's property by hydraulic fracturing. In West Virginia, U.S. District Judge John Preston Bailey denied a motion summary judgment filed by oil and gas producer defendants Chesapeake Appalachia, LLC, Statoil USA Onshore Properties, Inc. and Jamestown Resources, Inc. It was reported that in the case, "Chesapeake Appalachia drilled a horizontal Marcellus Shale well with a vertical well bore within 200 feet of the plaintiffs’ property and a horizontal well bore within “tens of feet” of the plaintiffs’ property. Although Chesapeake Appalachia maintains a lease for the oil and gas underlying the plaintiffs’ property, plaintiffs’ lease does not authorize pooling or unitization of the Marcellus formation."<.ref>"West Virginia judge recognizes trespass by hydraulic fracturing" ACC, April 23, 2013.</ref>

Legislative issues and regulations

On March 1, 2012, the Department of Justice said it was investigating possible environmental violations by Chesapeake Energy at three of its well sites in West Virginia, including possibile criminal violations and other liabilities under the Clean Water Act's prohibition against the filling or damming of wetlands, rivers, and streams without a federal permit. Penalties under the Clean Water Act could be as high as $37,500 per day, per violation. Criminal penalties could range from $2,500 to $25,000 per day, per misdemeanor, and between $5,000 and $50,000 per day for a felony.

Chesapeake's March 1, 2012 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission stated that the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection had issued orders for compliance related to alleged violations of the state's Dam Control and Safety Act at four structures constructed for Chesapeake.[7]

U.S. federal regulators fined Chesapeake Energy Corp $3.2 million to settle the company's Clean Water Act violations in West Virginia, issued on December 19, 2013. Chesapeake will also pay an estimated $6.5 million to restore streams and wetlands.[8]

Citizen groups

Industry groups


2013 report on wastewater

2012 study compares West Virginia vs Wyoming coal and gas tax rate

The 2012 West Virginia Center for Budget Policy report, "Major Tax Responsibilities of Coal and Natural Gas Producers in Wyoming and West Virginia," compared the coal and natural gas state tax policies of Wyoming and West Virginia in 2008 and found that:

  • Wyoming collected approximately $2.1 billion in taxes from coal and natural gas producers, compared to $787 million in West Virginia.
  • Wyoming’s average effective tax rate on coal producers was 10.6 percent, compared to 6.5 percent in West Virginia.
  • The average effective tax rate on natural gas producers was 10.2 percent in Wyoming and 8.2 percent in West Virginia.
  • The average property tax rate for coal and natural producers in Wyoming was 4.8 percent for each industry, while the average property tax rate for natural gas was three percent and one percent for coal in West Virginia.
  • If West Virginia replaced its real and personal property tax scheme with Wyoming’s county gross production tax, it would have raised an additional $115 million in 2008.



  1. Ian Urbina, "Regulation Lax as Gas Wells’ Tainted Water Hits Rivers," NY Times, February 26, 2011.
  2. Ian Urbina, "A Tainted Water Well, and Concern There May Be More," NY Times, Aug. 3, 2011.
  3. "New Contaminants Found In Oil And Gas Wastewater" Duke Environment, January 14, 2015.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Spencer Hunt, "Big lagoons could hold Ohio fracking waste," The Columbus Dispatch, Oct 11, 2013.
  5. "Fracking waste fills WV landfills under new rule," AP, December 7, 2013.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Evan Hansen, Dustin Mulvaney, and Meghan Betcher, "Water Resource Reporting and Water Footprint from Marcellus Shale Development in West Virginia and Pennsylvania," Downstream Strategies and Earthworks, Oct 30, 2013.
  7. "Chesapeake Energy facing DOJ investigation," AP, March 1, 2012.
  8. Nick Snow, "Chesapeake Appalachia settles federal water pollution charges," Oil and Gas Journal, Dec. 19, 2013.

Related SourceWatch articles

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