TRIADELPHIA - During his 30 years of practicing medicine in the Wheeling area, Dr. Michael Blatt has routinely treated patients for asthma, chronic obstructive lung disease and other respiratory problems.
Blatt believes the natural gas drilling sites and compressor stations scattered throughout the region are going to contribute to more breathing problems in the Ohio Valley, especially for those living in the rural areas with nearby gas operations.
"I have worked in this community for 30 years, and I'm very cognizant of the respiratory disease issues that will be compounded by the addition of these emissions to the atmosphere," Blatt wrote recently in an objection letter to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection regarding Chesapeake Energy's permit application to emit several air pollutants from the Dytko well pad, located along Stone Church Road.
The "potential to emit" amounts of sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde and other chemicals that may be released at the sites can vary, depending on the type of operations involved, according to legal advertisements posted by Chesapeake. In addition to the pollution from the well sites, Chesapeake also will release emissions from its local compressor stations. One of these is just off the Interstate 70 Dallas Pike exit near the Highlands, while another is in the Sand Hill area near the Marshall/Ohio County border.
Chesapeake confirmed the potential to discharge various amounts of these materials on an annual basis from their compressor operations: carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, methane, carbon dioxide equivalent, benzene and formaldehyde. There also will be various amounts of volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, acetaldehyde, acrolein, ethylbenzene, methanol, n-hexane, toluene, xylenes and nitrous oxide.
Blatt - who also lives along Stone Church Road near the Dytko pad - has "major concerns about venting these gases from this well pad by the flaring or burn-off process."
"Approximately 100 people live within 3,000 feet of this well pad. A number of families have young children and are growing up within 200 feet of this well pad," he wrote the West Virginia DEP.
"In particular, carbon monoxide of 40.28 tons per year will be produced by this well pad. This is of grave concern because the exposure to respiratory disease and creation of the ozone layer are toxic to lung disease," Blatt continued regarding the Dytko well.
Stacey Brodak, senior director of corporate development for Chesapeake, emphasized the proposed emission levels "meet the same stringent requirements as any other facility and are within the allowable emission limits."
"We support the role of the DEP to regulate the emissions at our facilities, including asking for and receiving public comments. We trust in the DEP's ability to evaluate those comments and place them in the appropriate context," she added.
Even if the emission levels fall within the DEP's standards, Blatt said public officials need to consider the possible negative impacts.
"My major concern is for the health and welfare of the children of Stone Church Road as well as for the elderly who have chronic debilitating diseases as the result of living and working in the Ohio Valley. Exacerbation of this health crisis is, I believe, an eminent danger," he said.
Chesapeake is also now awaiting a DEP permit to drill on property owned by the Park System Trust Fund of Wheeling, roughly 1,300 feet from Wheeling Park High School.
So far, at least 20 individual residents have sent objections to the DEP regarding the well site, as have the Ohio County Board of Education, the Ohio County Commission and the city of Wheeling.
Chesapeake officials have only said they have engaged with the parties affected by the drilling site, including the Ohio County Board of Education members and superintendent's office. They also emphasize the well site will be more than twice the 625-foot legal limit away from an "occupied dwelling," as defined by state law.