On June 7th, 2016, Judge Blake of the Circuit Court of Fayette County issued an order to Danny Webb Construction (DWC) to “cease all activities” at the North Hills Group [NHG] 1a injection well in Lochgelly, West Virginia. In July of 2015, the North Hills Group terminated their lease with DWC on the grounds that they had signed an oil and gas lease, but were not aware that DWC would use their land for hydraulic fracturing waste disposal. According to NHG Chair Patricia Hamilton, it was largely the public outcry about DWC’s injection wells that brought the pollution in Lochgelly to the attention of North Hills Group.
Judge Blake ruled that, “The Respondents [DWC] have failed to abide by or breached the terms of the lease and the Petitioner [NHG] terminated the lease…the Court upholds that legal right. Moreover, the Court is concerned that Respondents …creating a hydraulic fracturing waste dump, has the potential to create a public hazard to safety and the environment.”
Danny Webb Construction has been using two wells in Lochgelly to commercially dispose of oil and gas waste, including hydraulic fracturing wastes. One well is owned by DWC, the other was leased to DWC by North Hills Group. The lease was not originally intended for disposal of oil and gas waste, but rather for oil and gas exploration. However, DWC never attempted to do any oil and gas exploration, and instead converted the abandoned oil and gas well over to a waste injection well. Upon becoming aware of the true purpose of the facility in Lochgelly, North Hills Group, feeling as if DWC had negotiated the lease in bad faith, sent a letter terminating the lease. Operations continued at DWC for almost a year after receiving the letter. The hearing for the lease termination was delayed due to the fact the lawyer representing DWC, Roger Hanshaw, is a West Virginia Delegate and had commitments to participate in legislative session.
Brandon Richardson, cofounder of the organization Headwaters Defense, said, “I am sick of waiting on the courts to make a decision while the dumping continues. If the public had been properly informed or asked in the first place, it is obvious we would have stopped this assault on our water, air, land, and health. It is more than unfair that we worry every day and that our own waterways have become our worst enemy. Plug it now!”
The second injection well run by DWC on an adjacent property is still in operation, as is an injection well operated by EQT in Kingston. These wells may also be shut down if the Fayette County ordinance banning oil and gas waste disposal countywide becomes enforceable. The Fayette County Commission’s ordinance is being challenged by EQT in Federal Court on Friday June 10th at the Robert C. Byrd Courthouse in Charleston at 10:00 am. There will be a gathering and demonstration in support of the ban outside the Courthouse starting at 9:00 am. The outcome of this case may set a powerful precedent that will uphold the rights of other counties to enact similar ordinances.
The lease termination and the county’s ordinance both come, in part, because of the failure of the WV DEP to protect citizens and environment from the harms associated with frack waste disposal. Over the course of the trial, Judge Blake heard the testimony of Terry Urban, an oil and gas inspector for the WVDEP, “Mr. Urban testified that, as part of his job as inspector, he permits wells, but he has never seen the DWC permit . . . that he is not familiar with the regulations that he enforces . . . Mr. Urban also characterized DWC’s operation as ‘great’ when its permit was, at one point, revoked by the WV Environmental Quality Board and he has written Notices of Violation to DWC which he believed did not concern safety, public health or a danger to wildlife, but, when asked, he could not recall the specifics . . . The Court is somewhat disappointed in this testimony.”