WHEELING, W.Va. — As the natural gas industry continues to transform the area, West Virginia still doesn’t know enough about who is responsible for all the state’s wells and the growing maze of pipelines snaking through its hills, according to its top emergency management official.
“It’s almost impossible, when we get a call … to be able to figure out who these things belong to,” West Virginia Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Jimmy Gianato told area natural gas industry representatives as the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association’s inaugural ShaleSafe Conference and Expo concluded Wednesday at Oglebay Park.
He recalled a situation not long ago when it took several hours to identify the owner of a gas well where an incident had taken place. More than 20 different entities had operated it at one point or another, he said, and the latest information proved to be outdated.
“We have to build that system so our first responders know where to go,” Gianato said.
According to Gianato, the state is working on a new initiative, the Homeland Security Information Network, which he hopes will increase communication between his office, first responders and the private sector.
Such a flow of information was lacking, he said, following the Jan. 9 Freedom Industries chemical leak, which resulted in more than 10,000 gallons of 4-Methylcyclohexanemethanol, or MCHM, flowing into the Elk River near Charleston and impacting the water supply of about 300,000 people served by West Virginia American Water. A reliable test to detect the presence of MCHM had to be developed on the fly, and there was no information readily available as to acceptable levels of the chemical in drinking water, forcing state officials to collaborate with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to come up with a standard.
Although tests continue to show the water is safe, he said his office continues to investigate complaints almost daily – and he sees no end in sight.
“We anticipate it’s going to go on for many months before the confidence in the water system builds,” Gianato said…