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Is West Virginia Ready for Wave of Marcellus Drilling?

August 19, 2010

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - According to national and state observers, West Virginia is not ready to deal with the effects of natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale. Nationally, there has been a 40 percent increase in gas drilling in the last six years, a large part of it in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York and Ohio.

Documentary director Josh Fox is bringing his film, "Gasland," to Buckhannon this weekend. While making it, he researched the wave of new drilling in many states.

"Every place I went was the same story: water contamination and citizens outraged, feeling that they were being overrun because they lost control of their property, feeling that they'd lost control of their lives."

Industry supporters point to the economic growth that comes with the new wells, but long-term, the damage could cost more, Fox warns. He praises New York state for putting a one-year moratorium on new drilling.

The West Virginia Department of Transportation just announced that drillers will have to put up bonds to pay for possible damage to roads caused by the heavy equipment. But according to Shanda Minney, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, the state Department of Environmental Protection is unready.

"We're absolutely unprepared. We don't have enough inspectors on the ground, and the ones we do have are spread very thinly."

In the last two years, Pennsylvania has gone from 36 drilling inspectors to 121. In the same time, West Virginia went from 17 to 21.

Fox says he started work on the film so people in various areas could see the national pattern.

"That's why I made the film, to connect all these different areas. To show that what was happening in rural West Virginia and rural Pennsylvania was the same thing the same thing happening in Dallas-Fort Worth, the same thing happening in rural Wyoming, same thing happening in Colorado."

Fox will introduce his film at 3:30 p.m. on Aug. 22 at the West Virginia Wesleyan College Performing Arts Center (PAC).

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV