Opinion

State selling out the Ohio?

An editorial from The Dominion Post

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Could the Monongahela River be next?

The state Department of Commerce is negotiating a lease with two energy companies for horizontal oil and gas drilling on more than 1,600-acres of state-owned tracts beneath the Ohio River.

Both tracts are under the river in Marshall County.

Clearly, these contracts would be a windfall for the state. The leases alone total nearly $7 million, not including 20 percent royalty rates from production and additional severance tax revenue.

The drilling equipment would be located on-shore — not on state lands — and not in the river’s flood plain.

Horizontal drilling under rivers is already generating revenues in other states, including Pennsylvania, where leases below the Susquehanna River have yielded $10.5 million since 2010, not counting royalties.

The actual drilling would occur about a mile under the Ohio River, and all operations would still need permits from the Department of Environmental Protection.

No one doubts that these leases could produce huge amounts of money for the state as it wrestles with spending cuts and tapping its reserves just to make its budget.

Still, we get the impression someone might be about to sell our state down the river.

The Ohio River, like the Monongahela River, provides drinking water for people. It’s estimated about 5 million people get their drinking water from the Ohio.

The potential threats to that river are not just in the actual drilling process, where the risks of cracked casements leaking is a concern.

Perhaps more alarming, is the disposal of wastewater into injection wells or possible illegal dumping. There are also concerns about the massive volumes of water needed from the river to accommodate this drilling.

It’s during those processes that spills, tainted groundwater and leaks could more than likely occur.

Even with safeguards in place to detect possible contaminants in the river or its tributaries, if certain chemicals get in it, there’s little anyone can do.

Aside from shutting down public-water intakes and waiting for any toxic chemicals to flow downstream.

Also, if another such large-scale contamination event as the one in the Charleston area in January 2014 occurs, it would prove devastating.

Maybe more significant than the quality-of-life issues and health costs to the public, the damage to our state’s economy and reputation would be tenfold.

Our confidence in our state’s environmental regulators to safeguard against spills and leaks is iffy, at best.

We caution our state leaders negotiating these leases to carefully consider, if not altogether reconsider, this decision.

Ever wonder, “What could happen next?”

The answer may one day be in the water.

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