A group of concerned landowners met at the home of Patrick and Ginny Keller recently to address some issues they believe were caused by horizontal drilling in the Elk Fork area of Tyler County.
Several residents were present at the meeting, as well as two respresentatives from the Wetzel County Action Group. Some concerns discussed included water testing, pollution, and emergency contact information. However, the group's main concerns with the drilling operation were speeding, school bus safety and escorts, and road deterioration.
The following Friday, the Kellers and Freeland met with Troy Smith, maintenance director for the Tyler County School District, to deliver a copy of a proposal requesting an escort for school buses in the area of the drilling operation. The draft was then presented to Dan Mullins, the regional manager for PetroEdge Energy LLC.
PetroEdge Energy LLC has posted signs to remind their contractors and subcontractors to drive slowly on Tyler County roadways.
"We contacted Mr. Mullins in his Williamstown office, and sent him pertinent information from the proposed draft," Freeland explained. "He agreed to the offer without waiting for Mr. Smith to contact him. He approached Caiman Energy LLC, as well, and they agreed to help on this matter as they also have vehicles traveling in the area at this time."
Freeland added, "PetroEdge has shown they are willing to work with the locals of the area, school districts, and county governments by some of their most recent actions and responses to concerns brought to their attention by some of the local residents. The company has taken a significant action to protect our students riding the school busses along Elk Fork road bus route in Tyler County. They are voluntarily offering to provide an escort vehicle that leads the school busses bringing students to and from their schools from the intersection of Elk Fork and 180 to the turn around at the top of Kelch Hill and back. This provides an extra degree of safety while sharing the roads with the heavy truck traffic associated with natural gas exploitation activities. They are also going to work on adjustment of times the blanket permits have for big trucks moving during school bus travel hours as they stated in some communications with residents and Troy Smith from the transportation department at the local bus garage."
Freeland also noted the company has posted signs along Elk Fork Road to let their subcontractors know speeding is dangerous and they need to slow down. "These signs speak for themselves," she said.
In an email response, Mullins was apologetic. "I would like to first apologize to the residents of Elk Fork for the inconveniences and frustrations that our drilling operations may have caused," he wrote. "I would also like to say that I appreciate the feedback and ideas they had in order for us to work together and resolve some of these issues. We have learned that not all of our vendors are courteous and respectful to the local residents. This will hopefully change with the addition of the signs reminding them to slow down and also feedback from the residents as to who is being respectful and who is not."
The condition of the roads in the area is another concern voiced by the residents. "Many of our local county roads were never intended for this type of traffic. Rock and gravel has been recently placed to repair some damages along Conway Road along Elk Fork which had recently been referred to as 'pothole' heaven by truckers using their (radios) while traveling through the area," Freeland said.
Mullins addressed this issue, as well, "Conway Road has temporarily been repaired with stone in the potholes," he wrote. "We are currently waiting on bids and for the asphalt plants to open in order to pave this road that once was simply tar and chip."
One area of the road, which was once asphalt to the creek crossing, has become a huge problem for residents. According to Freeland, the crossing was so deep at one point that the water reached the bottom of the headlights of a neighbor's SUV. Another car became stuck in the crossing and had to be pulled out with a farm tractor, the front tires almost buried to the axle. "Damages to the car did occur. Since that time Petroedge Energy has tried placing mats although those did not work the crossing was fixed to a better condition after digging it out and trying those mats and placing smaller gravel," she said.
Mullins said his company is working to remedy this problem. "The engineering firm we are using is currently finishing up the design of the low water crossing and will send it to the US Army Corp of Engineers for approval and proper permits," he said. "Once we get the proper permits in place we will install a low water crossing so the residents will no longer need to drive through the creek as they have in the past."
Freeland appreciates the efforts the company has made to rectify the issues. "I hope they will continue to work with the local residents and community in the future," Freeland said. "I also hope everyone involved will keep in mind this does not have to be an adversarial thing. We need to try and focus on developing partnerships and connections. It is always better to work with one another than against. The oil and gas industry booming in the area is good for the economy and local businesses."
"On behalf of some of the local residents of the Elk Fork community who have been working with Petroedge or showing concerns, I would like to take the time to commend them on the signs as well as the concern shown for the safety of our children. And to express our appreciation and thanks to Petroedge Energy for working with us on these measures," Freeland concluded.
"Again I would like to thank the residents of Elk Fork for working with us on resolving these issues, by working together we can minimize and settle issues a lot quicker. I look forward to working with the residents as our operations continue," Mullins said.