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West Virginia plans to allow drilling under the northern West Virginia section of the Ohio River, including land in Pleasants, Marshall, and Wetzel counties. This plan is causing controversy, as those on both sides of the river question the impact.[1] Although West Virginia has jurisdiction over the river in these areas[2], and thus the right to allow drilling there, the impact of an accident within the State would have catastrophic effects both on West Virginia and neighboring states. The river provides drinking water to over five million people, and twenty-five million people (roughly 10% of the U.S. population) live in the Ohio River Basin.[3] While the proposed drilling is purported to occur as deep as a mile under the river basin, many residents remain skeptical.[4]

Despite the public criticism, West Virginia state officials are making an effort to shed positive light on the proposed project. The West Virginia Department of Commerce recently spoke about Governor Tomblin’s outlook on the project: “Gov. Tomblin believes the state of West Virginia and its residents can and should continue to capitalize on the benefits of this abundant natural resource and the development opportunities it brings to the Mountain State. This project in particular would allow for the continued development of the Marcellus and Utica shales and would help improve the economic condition of not only our state and our region but hard working West Virginia families.”[5]

Governor Tomblin’s statement undoubtedly has merit. West Virginia and its residents are extremely fortunate with regards to the natural resources that this State has to offer. With best practices in place and a clear focus on operating safely, West Virginia and its communities have much to gain from projects such as this. For example, West Virginia’s Division of Natural Resources (DNR) could see significant benefit from this project.[6] West Virginia state law currently funnels oil and gas proceeds on state-owned lands to the DNR.[7] “There’s no question about it, the state parks might be able to make a little hay with some of this,” West Virginia Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette told MetroNews.[8]

The proximity to the river and the inherent dangers and risks associated with any extraction industry are obvious concerns for State residents. As we all know, there have been many horror stories in the coal and natural gas industries about injuries and problems with the extraction of these resources. However, as long as safety is paramount and always placed before profit or material gain, natural resource extraction can be good for West Virginia.

Currently, four companies have bid on the project, including Houston-based Noble Energy, Houston-based Gastar Exploration, Norway-based Statoil and Marietta-based Triad Hunter. A decision is expected to be made within the next week.