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Natural gas industry reps talk Marcellus Shale

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Advocates of Marcellus Shale drilling held a public meeting Thursday evening to promote the benefits of, and allay fears about, the development of the huge natural gas reserve.

About 20 people attended the meeting, which was hosted by Energize West Virginia and America's Natural Gas Alliance and held at the Kanawha County Courthouse. All seemed to be in favor of Marcellus drilling, and didn't seem concerned about any effects from the process.

The meeting was a chance for representatives from the natural gas industry to answer questions and address concerns that people may have about the development of Marcellus Shale, said Kim Lawrence, a spokeswoman for Energize West Virginia. A panel of officials from the industry was on hand to answer questions.

Lawrence said hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is not a new practice. The process, which involves creating fractures in underground formations to allow gas and oil to flow, has been used since World War II and about 1.2 million wells have been fracked, she said.

Each well requires an average of 2 million to 5 million gallons of water during the fracking process, she said. In many cases, that water is recycled and used in other fracking jobs.

As far as the impact that fracking has on water resources, Lawrence said many precautions are taken to ensure that water is kept safe. Multiple layers of protective casing surrounded by cement put in place during the construction process protect freshwater, she said.

Opponents of fracking remain worried about the effect of the process, though. They're not convinced that the industry's safety precautions are enough, and some say their water has already been polluted. They wonder what will happen to the chemical-laden fracking wastewater after drillers are through with it. Some residents worry about noise and light pollution and dust from the wells.

They also want the state to hire more regulators to keep an eye on gas drillers in West Virginia. Earlier this month, state lawmakers proposed a $10,000 permit fee for each new drilling site, and another $5,000 for each new well drilled on the site. The money would go toward new inspectors. Gas industry leaders strongly oppose those permit fees.

As for the economic impact of Marcellus Shale, Lawrence said Thursday that if drilling continues, the natural gas industry could see add between 6,000 and 19,000 West Virginia jobs, and the state could see millions of dollars in tax revenue.

"Natural gas is one of the few industries that are hiring," she said.

West Virginia has two of the site that are being considered for the construction of a $1.5 billion facility to crack ethane into ethylene. If the "cracker" is built in West Virginia, it will be a tremendous opportunity for the state, Lawrence said.

Marcellus Shale is the second-largest natural gas field in the world, Lawrence said.

Thursday's meeting is the sixth in a series of town hall-style meetings about Marcellus Shale around the state, and more are scheduled, Lawrence said. Most have drawn between 60 and 75 people, she said.

"For the most part, people are receptive and surprised by the information that they hear," Lawrence said of the meetings.

For D.C. Wingate and his wife Louise, the meeting was a chance to catch up on the happenings of the natural gas industry. D.C. Wingate, a Clendenin resident, worked for Columbia Gas for 45 years before his retirement in 1995.

"I just hope it does for the state what they're predicting it will," Louise Wingate said.

"I think it will," D.C. Wingate said. "It's a big, big project."

Both of the Wingates said they're not concerned that Marcellus Shale development may cause problems to the environment.

"So far it seems to be OK," D.C. Wingate said. "The industry seems to be very careful in how they do things."

Charleston residents Beverley<co > and John Hall said they support the development as well.

"We believe that there are a lot of difficult issues but we also believe that we can't ignore the opportunity," Beverley Hall said. "You can't just say no to things because you don't want things to change."

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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