According to a new study by Environmental Health Perspectives, 17.6 million Americans live within one mile of an active oil or gas well. West Virginia topped the list. Half of the state’s population resides within a mile of an active well.
Studies have found links between public health outcomes and active oil and gas production.
Oil and gas development:
- degrades the quality of air and water,
- contaminates the soil,
- increases exposure to noise and light pollution.
People who live within a mile of an active well have higher rates of health problems including:
- heart-related illness,
- neurological problems,
Living near an active well has also been associated with adverse health outcomes in babies including:
- pre-term birth,
- lower birth weight,
- neural tube defects,
- congenital heart defects.
In Everyone’s Backyard: Assessing Proximity of Fracking to Communities At-Risk in West Virginia’s Marcellus Shale
SkyTruth recently partnered with Downstream Strategies and San Francisco University on a related report, focused on West Virginia. The report concluded that Marcellus Shale gas production has become more common near places essential for everyday life in West Virginia, increasing the potential for human exposure to toxic chemicals.
“This report shines a light on the impacts of fracking on the health and well-being of West Virginians. It is a perfect example of why I founded SkyTruth,” said John Amos. “If people are aware of how these decisions impact their lives, they will be able to be part of the solution.”
Many Homes Are Too Close to Well Pads
According to the report, more than 7,000 homes were located less than one-half mile from well pads in 2014. While the Horizontal Well Control Act established a setback distance of 625 feet between the center of well pads and homes, many homes are located closer than this distance to well pads.
Well Pads Have Encroached on Schools
As fracking progressed in West Virginia, well pads have also encroached on schools. By 2014, seven schools had at least one well pad within one-half mile, and 36 schools had at least one well located within one mile.
More Well Pads Have Been Built Near Public Lands, Including Water Protection Areas and Healthcare Facilities
Well pads must be more than 1,000 feet from public drinking water intakes; however, there are no restrictions on the construction of well pads within drinking water protection areas upstream from intakes. In 2014, hundreds of well pads and impoundments were in these protection areas. Since 2007, more and more well pads and impoundments have been built in or near public lands and health care facilities.
A systematic, screening-level evaluation of the toxicity of chemicals self-reported by operators in West Virginia revealed several hazardous substances had been used to frack wells near schools and immediately upstream from surface public drinking water intakes.
New Setback Distances Needed
Unlike other states, West Virginia State Code does not require setbacks between Marcellus Shale development and several types of sensitive areas assessed in this report. Setback distances for schools, healthcare facilities, and public lands—and restrictions in zones of critical concern and zones of peripheral concern above drinking water intakes—would help protect vulnerable populations and recreational opportunities as fracking development continues.
“Now that this analysis is completed, it’s a good time for the Legislature to consider new setback distances from homes, schools, and other sensitive areas,” said Evan Hansen, President of Downstream Strategies.
This report was made possible by a Switzer Network Innovation Grant.
Mountaineer Gas Company has proposed building a pipeline through the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. Eastern Panhandle Protectors asked SkyTruth to produce a map showing the pathway the pipeline will take, based on documents from Mountaineer Gas Company and land easements they’ve purchased. Mountaineer included maps within their “petition to amend infrastructure and expansion program” covering the pipeline route across the Panhandle, but these are small-scale maps lacking in detail, with very broad-stroke yellow lines pointing directions for several miles. These maps do not show enough detail to be useful. For example, they don’t indicate which side of Route 9 or Interstate 81 the pipeline would follow (see map from Mountaineer Petition below).
Eastern Panhandle Protectors provided SkyTruth with addresses of easements purchased by Mountaineer and asked us to create a more detailed map that would be useful for public outreach. Members of Eastern Panhandle Protectors also spoke with property owners along the proposed path of the pipeline to find out if they had sold an easement to the gas company, or if they had been approached for an easement and were “holding out”. Property addresses (both holdouts and easements) were marked on Google Earth, and the general path of the pipeline began to take shape. However, street addresses and Google imagery were not enough information to delineate the proposed path, so we obtained a tax parcel map from the WV GIS Technical Center and used the data to visualize property boundaries (see below).
We had to make some educated guesses to determine where the pipeline would go as it crossed each of these properties. Eastern Panhandle Protectors suggested the following assumptions: Pipeline companies generally do not want to
- turn the pipeline at a sharp angle,
- build on steep slopes, or,
- build too close to homes or businesses.
They do want to take the shortest possible route.
Starting with the general pipeline path as defined by the properties shown in the map above, SkyTruth refined the hypothetical route by applying these guidelines.
The hypothetical route shown in yellow on the map above is dashed to indicate our uncertainty about the exact path the pipeline will follow. Given the noted assumptions we had to make in delineating the most likely pipeline route, we can make no claims about the accuracy of this map. It is simply our best guess at where the pipeline could go, based on the imprecise and incomplete information the gas company and the state are making available to the public. It’s a shame better information is not being provided to the public.