WELLSBURG - West Virginia regulators detected a substance commonly used at natural gas drilling sites in the Ohio River following an apparent spill into Brooke County's Buffalo Creek.
Meanwhile, Wellsburg City Council voted late Tuesday to ban gas drilling and fracking within 1 mile of the city limits, despite objections from Chesapeake Energy.
A fisherman late Monday reported finding a foamy substance in the creek, which flows westward to the river through Brooke County after originating in Pennsylvania. West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Kathy Cosco said the clay-like substance bentonite was detected in the Ohio River.
Photo by Casey Junkins
Billy Max of Wellsburg and Amy Jones of Follansbee prepare to do some fishing Tuesday at Buffalo Creek in Brooke County.
"We are told that the source of the material is coming from western Pennsylvania and is possibly a gas well," Cosco said.
According to a Material Safety Data Sheet, exposure to bentonite may cause skin, eye, gastrointestinal or respiratory irritation.
"Bentonite is a solid or a clay, so we believe there are other chemical properties in it as well. A sample is being brought to us in Charleston so we can test it as well," Cosco noted.
Water departments along the river took precautions upon hearing a spill had been reported, but Wheeling Public Works Director Russell Jebbia said the released substance seemed to be small enough in quantity to prevent any significant problems.
"We will continue to monitor it," he said. "But I would say we will probably have no impact whatsoever."
Brooke County Sheriff Richard Ferguson said bentonite is a product used by natural gas drillers to help seal gas wells as part of the drilling process. Upon receiving the initial report he believed the material may be coming from a nearby natural gas drilling site.
"We followed it as far as we could, even crossing into Pennsylvania," he said. "We were not told about what they were doing up there that might hurt us. They should let us know what is going on."
Kevin Sunday, spokes-man for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, said his department was unable to find the "white foam-like substance" described in the fisherman's reports.
Tuesday night, Wellsburg council voted 4-3 - with Mayor Sue Simonetti breaking a tie - to ban drilling or fracking inside the city and outside within 1 mile.
Supporting Wellsburg's ordinance were Councilmen Mike Mitchell, Ron Michaux and Randy Fletcher, along with Simonetti. Councilmen Bruce Hunter and Jeff Tarr, along with Councilwoman Della Serevicz, opposed the measure. Councilwoman Tammy Provenzano and Councilman Bill Smith were absent.
City Solicitor Bill Cipriani acknowledged many have questioned whether the city can exert power outside its borders. He noted, however, such action is permitted through West Virginia Code 8-12-19, which states cities may exert authority within a mile outside their borders if needed to efficiently exercise the powers given them by state code.
Chesapeake Director of Corporate Development Stacey Brodak said of Wellsburg's vote, "We understand their major concern is the city water supply. We believe their concerns could be allayed with scientific data and information."