The Wetzel County experience has enlightened me to some problems inherent with gas fracking. Wetzel County has over 30 fracked gas wells and more coming. Despite the heavy gas industry presence, Wetzel County has the highest unemployment rate in West Virginia. Job positions for fracking preparations and operations require skilled and experienced workers. Gas companies that are fracking in Wetzel County imported experienced workers from other states for most positions and hired relatively few locals, only for excavating or local driving positions.
With up to 1,500 trucks per day and imported workers, patronage has increased at some businesses, particularly gas stations and food and lodging establishments, which have hired more local employees. However, most newly-hired positions in these businesses pay low wages. Further, after extracting as much gas as possible, the frackers leave and local business plunges as quickly as it soared.
Since fracking began in Wetzel County, property values there have plummeted by 50% but property taxes have increased. Only oil companies, generally the same companies responsible for gas fracking, are purchasing the properties where fracking has taken place. Some mortgage companies won’t mortgage such properties. Although insurance companies have not yet refused to insure these properties, a recent statement from State Farm suggests this practice is about to begin.
Wetzel County now is fraught with family and community disharmony. Feuding is common within families and among county residents and centers around the benefits versus the problems brought by fracking. Benefits include payment to property-owners for mineral or surface rights to obtain gas, donations from gas companies to local fire companies and charities, increased local business and jobs. These monetary benefits are enticing in today’s economy but temporary.
In contrast, the problems of fracking include destruction of the natural environment, air and water contamination, traffic and noise, and negative consequences on property values, taxes, and salability. Except for traffic and noise, which disappear when fracking is done, these problems cause permanent harm.
Five years of fracking has transformed the once quiet, clean and harmonious rural county into a noisy, polluted and discordant industrial zone. Hopefully, Morgan County residents will learn from this experience and will fight to ban fracking here.