Northeast Continues Drilling in Morgantown Despite Ban

The ongoing battle between Morgantown, WV and Northeast Natural Energy over two proposed gas wells located close to Morgantown continues, and gets interesting. Northeast had been working with Morgantown to address concerns that the two wells they propose to drill are close to the water intake for the city. Northeast believed everything was fine until city council voted to ban hydraulic fracturing both inside and outside of its borders—up to one mile outside (allowable under WV law). Northeast’s proposed wells are within that one mile radius, so the ban shut them down. Or did it?

According to press accounts, Northeast has just started work drilling the second Marcellus gas well and plans to start fracking the first well in September, regardless of the ban:

A Charleston company is drilling a second Marcellus Shale gas well in Morgantown and plans to hydraulically fracture the first one in September.

Morgantown Utility Board manager Tim Ball says Northeast Natural Energy had planned to frack the first well along the Monongahela River in August but pushed back its plan.

The Dominion Post says the board is monitoring the work less than a mile from a city drinking water intake.

Morgantown recently passed an ordinance to ban Marcellus gas drilling and fracking within city limits and up to a mile beyond. Northeast sued, claiming the city is overreaching its legal authority.

A hearing on Northeast’s request for a preliminary injunction to keep the city from enforcing its ban is set for Aug. 17 in Monongalia Circuit Court.*

MDN’s take: The Morgantown ban prohibits hydraulic fracturing, not necessarily drilling per se. So Northeast can legally drill the wells, but they can’t (yet) frack them until the court says it’s OK to do so, which Northeast hopes will happen in August. Drilling puts the main bore hole in the ground, whereas fracking is the process of blowing small holes along the bore hole and then forcing water and sand under high pressure into those small holes and into the surrounding shale to fracture it apart and release the gas.

*Charleston Gazette/AP (Aug 10, 2011) – Northeast begins drilling second Morgantown gas well