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Published: 09.10.2015

Statejournal Letter to the Editor: If you spoil our water then you need to pay for our water

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Water is life. Every living thing on this earth needs access to clean water to survive. It’s our most precious resource. The 2030 Water Resources Group has predicted that water demand will exceed supply by 40 percent in 15 more years. We are very fortunate to live in a state with a plentiful supply. By comparison, California is in its fourth year of a drought and water rationing has been implemented. While our supply is abundant, we cannot take this resource for granted. With our climate in flux, we should be doing everything we can to protect and preserve our water resources. According to the West Virginia Water Resources Protection Act (West Virginia Code 22-26-3), “The waters of the State of West Virginia are claimed as valuable public natural resources held by the state for the use and benefit of its citizens.” Citizens — that’s us.

So what are we doing with our plentiful and precious water? Besides drinking and recreating in it, we give it away to industry. Extracting natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale is a very water intensive process. Every time a well is drilled, an average of 4 million gallons of water is used. With approximately 1,200 active wells and over 3,000 permitted, the gas industry needs a lot of water. Environment America estimates West Virginia has used 17 billion gallons of water for hydraulic fracturing from 2005 to 2013.

Where does all the water they use come from? In most cases, it is sucked right out of our rivers and streams. There are approximately 155 water withdrawal sites permitted in West Virginia. The water is mixed with a cocktail of chemicals and pumped underground to fracture the shale and capture the natural gas. Once a gas well has been drilled, the water resurfaces as flowback and produced water, which is essentially industrial waste. The water is too polluted to return it to the rivers and streams from which it was taken. So instead, the toxic water is disposed of in underground injection wells where it is supposed to remain, but that’s another issue.

Why is the natural gas industry allowed to waste our water? These companies do not pay a cent for taking this water from our rivers and streams and ruining it. It’s only fair these companies compensate us for the use of that water. They need to pay for taking and using our most precious resource. West Virginia citizens should not be required to give away such a vital resource to enhance the profits of the gas companies.

It’s time for gas drillers to pay — even a very modest amount — for the water they take from West Virginians. You want it? You use it? You spoil it? You should pay for it.

Jim Sconyers
West Virginia Sierra Club
Terra Alta