Residents’ perspectives on water quality and unconventional oil and gas extraction in Northwest West Virginia

Authors: Bethani Turley*, West Virginia University
Topics: Water Resources and Hydrology
Keywords: water, West Virginia, unconventional oil and gas extraction, human geography
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Roosevelt 4.5, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Scientists (Palmer, Short, and Auch 2018; Harkness et al. 2017) and residents are concerned with unconventional oil and gas (UOG) development's impacts on surface water and groundwater, especially how UOG impacts residents' access to safe well water. In the past decade unconventional oil and gas has grown in West Virginia, yet the social dimensions of oil and gas extraction in West Virginia remain underexplored. This paper, based on 30 in-depth interviews, explores stakeholders’ perspectives on UOG development effects on water in Northwestern West Virginia. Residents rely on baseline water testing when oil and gas development occurs near their homes to be able to detect changes in water quality. However, water testing is typically conducted by UOG companies or hired contractors. This research found that while the process of water testing relies on residents’ trust in UOG companies, interviewees referred to multiple factors that impacted their trust of companies. For example, delayed test results and incorrect testing procedures undermined trust. Water testing can provide the only means for residents’ legal recourse if water quality changes occur, and yet UOG companies often control this process and dissemination of results. This paper discusses the impacts of residents’ anxieties about well water contamination, given the context of uncertainty around long term water impacts in the Marcellus shale.

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