Citing their aim to preserve what they called the pristine beauty of Mingo Creek County Park, representatives from the locally based Center for Coalfield Justice asked the Washington County commissioners Thursday not to advertise for proposals from energy companies to extract oil and gas lease under county-owned land at the park in Nottingham Township.
Patrick Grenter, an attorney and executive director of the environmental nonprofit organization, also asked the commissioners not to take steps that would lead to sub-surface drilling without first convening evening meetings for public comment.
“Mingo Creek County Park is a pristine area, an economic driver in and of itself because of its beauty,” Grenter told the commissioners, noting that his organization is also opposing a coal mine that has been proposed in Nottingham.
Grenter raised concerns about increased truck traffic, diesel emissions and dust.
“Even if the drilling does not occur inside the park, we know this pollution is not entirely localized,” he said. “When you open up this area to industrial development, air quality won’t respect property boundaries or leases.”
Other representatives from Coalfield Justice read a letter expressing similar sentiments from members who were unable to attend the commissioners’ bi-monthly 10 a.m. meeting.
Commission Chairman Larry Maggi advised members of the environmental group to discuss their concerns with Scott Fergus, Washington County director of administration. The commissioners voted unanimously a few minutes later to authorize the advertisement for proposals that could lead to drilling beneath Mingo park. But don’t look for it immediately.
Any new request will address environmental concerns, county solicitor Lynn DeHaven said after the meeting. He plans to study a similar document produced by Allegheny County in seeking energy firms to extract oil and gas from beneath Deer Lakes Park in suburban Pittsburgh’s North Hills.
“We’re months away from advertising,” DeHaven said.
Fergus said some property owners retained mineral rights for land that became part of the 2,200-acre park. The county’s acquisition of property to create the park in the 1960s predates the tenure of anyone who is now working in the commissioners’ office.
Outside the meeting, Grenter said, “Nowhere else in the world are longwall mining and hydraulic fracturing occurring on top of each other. The citizens of Washington and Greene counties and northern West Virginia are really the subjects of a grand energy experiment, and we’re doing the best we can to try and protect human health and the environment through that process.”
Vertical wells, also known as conventional wells, have operated on privately owned land in the park for decades, but park users may not be aware of them because they are located far from the creek, shelters or developed parts of the park.
“There hasn’t been any drilling since the county’s owned the property,” said Lisa Cessna, director of the county planning commission. “There are parcels we do not own. I don’t know how that shakes out as far as percentages. It shouldn’t affect anything in the park because it’s non-surface disturbance. That includes no pipelines.”
Maggi said of extraction from the Marcellus Shale, “The gas and oil industry is here in Washington County. It’s helping Washington County. It’s part of our fabric now. It’s creating new jobs. It’s creating new wealth. I’ve lived here my whole life. The environment’s important. I live in a rural community, and I’ve not seen anything so far that’s made me change my mind.”
The county has two goals in seeking sub-surface drilling leases, namely, raising revenues and keeping property taxes low, Fergus said. Half of the royalties from producing wells are earmarked for park improvements, while the rest of the income goes into the county’s general fund.
An energy company approached the county several years ago about drilling a conventional well in the park, but it never materialized, Fergus recalled.