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Industry group slams New Martinsville's gas-drilling ban

NEW MARTINSVILLE, W.Va. -- A natural gas industry group says New Martinsville's new ban on drilling within city limits is ill-conceived, and workers may start taking their business elsewhere.

"We have to react,'' said Michael McCown, president of the West Virginia Independent Oil & Gas Association. "We do not want to do commerce in communities that do not want our business.''

Mayor Lucille Blum told The Intelligencer that City Council wants to protect its residents' drinking water, which comes from wells.

"We are not doing anything against the gas companies,'' she said. "We are only concerned with protecting our water supply.''

"We appreciate all of these gas companies being here,'' Blum added. "We have no animosity toward them and are glad they are here.''

New Martinsville is at least the fourth West Virginia city to adopt a municipal drilling ban.

Passed unanimously earlier this month, its ordinance forbids "exploration, extraction, production, development, mining, leasing and/or drilling'' within city limits. Whether on private or public property, it says, the machinery used for oil and gas production "is strictly prohibited and shall constitute a public nuisance.''

The ordinance further declares drilling "detrimental to the health, safety and general welfare of the public.''

Most of West Virginia sits atop the vast, mile-deep Marcellus Shale gas reserves, and the drilling industry is in high gear throughout northern West Virginia.

Reaching the reserves requires deep, horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies that the industry insists are safe. Many environmental groups and residents, however, are concerned about water pollution, road destruction and other quality of life issues.

Chesapeake Energy, which has a large presence in the region, hopes New Martinsville will reconsider.

Chesapeake believes existing regulations, its own best management practices and emergency rules requested by Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, acting as governor, "are able to provide the city with a level of comfort to address any environmental concerns they may have,'' said spokeswoman Stacey Brodak.

Wellsburg banned drilling within a mile of its borders, but City Council has since moved to repeal the ordinance. The cities of Lewisburg and Morgantown, meanwhile, are standing by similar ordinances.

Morgantown, however, is being sued by the driller it targeted. Northeast Natural Energy of Charleston is sinking wells along the Monongahela River, less than a mile from a drinking water intake. City leaders said they had no choice but to protect their water supply in the absence of strong state regulations.

A hearing on Northeast's request for a preliminary injunction preventing the city from enforcing its ordinance is set for Aug. 17 before Monongalia Circuit Judge Susan Tucker.

 


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