Source: The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register (West Virginia), April 15, 2011
By: Casey Junkins
Wetzel County property owners believe Chesapeake Energy is trying to remove benzene-contaminated soil from a drilling site waste pit.
Chesapeake officials, however, said company workers are busy repairing a slip at the drilling site – and are well within their rights to do so.
Earlier this week, U.S. District Judge Frederick P. Stamp issued a temporary restraining order against Chesapeake to prevent the company from removing the soil from a drilling site in Silver Hill, which lies east of New Martinsville and Proctor in Wetzel County.
The landowners, Larry and Jana Rine, are suing Chesapeake for what they believe is the illegal dumping of waste on their land.
Though the Rines could not be reached for comment, court documents reveal they are seeking a more comprehensive cleanup of their property – and do not want Chesapeake to be able to take the soil out of the pit until the matter can be resolved.
Court filings show preliminary testing of the soil revealed benzene, among other contaminants. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, benzene is a carcinogen that can also affect bone marrow and blood production over prolonged periods of time.
The organization notes that even brief exposure to high levels of benzene can lead to “drowsiness, dizziness, unconsciousness, and death.”
However, Chesapeake media relations specialist Jacque Bland said the restraining order is only to maintain the “status quo” until a hearing next week. Stamp is directing the parties to meet at 9 a.m. Thursday at the Federal Building, 1125 Chapline St., Wheeling for a preliminary hearing.
“Chesapeake does believe that its activities are prudent and entirely within its lease and property rights,” she said.
The Rines are represented by Charleston attorneys Brian Glasser and John W. Barrett, while Chesapeake is represented by Charleston attorney Timothy M. Miller.
Miller’s answer to the Rines’ complaint denies that Chesapeake constructed a pit for the deposit of waste material from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, of the Marcellus Shale, though the company admits to fracking at the drilling site.
Chesapeake officials maintain they have permission from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to perform all work being done on the Rines’ land.
Though Chesapeake is now focusing most of its drilling efforts on Ohio and Brooke counties, officials note there is still much to do in Wetzel and Marshall counties. With these allegations in mind, the West Virginia DEP recently cited Chesapeake for having an “inadequate erosion and sediment control” violation, along with a “pollution of waters of the state” violation for a Marshall County site near Fish Creek.
Chesapeake also received a citation for “wasting natural gas” at a Wetzel County site east of Proctor near the Marshall County border on Feb. 26.
Also last year, Jeremiah Magers believed his drinking water well became contaminated with methane when Chesapeake fracked some nearby wells close to his home along Fish Creek in Marshall County.