WV County Treats Driller as Partner Instead of Enemy with Positive Result

Instead of treating Marcellus Shale drilling companies as enemies or opponents, officials in Monroe County (West Virginia) instead decided to treat them as partners. Monroe is a rural county in southeastern WV with an underground water system mapped by cavers. Monroe sits atop a karst geological formation, which contains sinkholes, underground caves and streams that sink underground. Water under some parts of the county can travel miles in a single day, so Monroe officials are concerned about any potential spillages and about fracking in some areas.

Marcellus Shale drilling in the state has no special regulations as it does in other Marcellus states, and the most recent session of the legislature adjourned without passing proposed new regulations. So officials in Monroe County proactively sought out Gordy Oil, the only drilling company that has expressed an active interest in drilling in the county, to see if the two might work out an agreement, and it resulted in a “memorandum of understanding” between the two.

“One of the pieces of advice we got, particularly from the Pennsylvania township leaders, was, ‘Keep the dialogue open with the company. Do not treat them as an enemy,’” [Monroe County Planning Commission Chair Rod] Graves said. “That was the first thing we established in the county. We reached out to a company, and they returned in kind.”

That company was Gordy Oil. Graves said Gordy immediately reached out and met with citizens and officials. As a result of looking at maps of the karst areas … Gordy even moved one of its drilling locations away from a mature karst area.

Though the county originally thought of passing ordinances, it instead leveraged its ability as a county with planning commission authority under Chapter 8 of the State Code to negotiate a memorandum of understanding with Gordy Oil.

“This is just an agreement between us — what we’ll do, what they’ll do. It’s a memorandum of understanding just like any other,” [Monroe County Commission President Shane] Ashley said. “If the agreement is broken, the understanding is over.”

Graves said the idea in Monroe County was to not throw up walls to the drillers, but to “manage our way through this event” and keep it from overwhelming the county when drillers leave years later. When Gordy Oil took a seat at the table and showed a willingness to cooperate, Graves said, a valuable partnership began to form.

[Geologist Rocky] Parsons said Gordy has gone “above and beyond” other drillers, but he recognized not all drillers may be as eager to work with counties and municipalities. Parsons said his advice for other communities is to reach out to drillers who are applying for permits in their areas.*

*Beckley Register-Herald (Jun 6, 2011) – Monroe County officials enter creative agreement with gas drilling company