Oil and Gas Task Force, LEPC Discuss Issues
Members of the Wetzel County Oil and Gas Task Force came together Friday, Oct. 20 at the Mollohan Center. Members and community residents addressed issues concerning increased traffic caused by an increase in industry activities. Ray Renaud, from the Wetzel County Office of Emergency Management (WCOEM), informed the task force that there had been a significant decrease in the number of accidents related to gas and oil traffic in the last three years. He credits the reduction in accidents to Southwestern Energy Company’s (SWN) procedures regarding pilot truck drivers.
Renaud pointed out, “Southwestern has a policy they escort every truck with an escort pilot vehicle and we have problems with that, the way it’s escorted but it made a remarkable difference in the number of accidents we face.”
This decrease in accidents led the committee to believe that any oil and gas company truck that can’t maintain its lane, due to sharp turns or narrow roads, should be accompanied by an escort truck.
Renaud stated that the task force’s Road Safety Committee wanted to develop a uniform set of best practices for trucks traveling on Wetzel County roads. He informed the committee that he was meeting with the Commissioner of Highways on Monday to present the framework for having these best practices adopted.
Resident Dian Wilson is an emergency responder, but noted she was not speaking on behalf of her department. Wilson questioned why trucks are traveling so close to their escort vehicles. She stated that, even when she was stopped on the road in her emergency vehicle, some trucks nearly hit her. Wilson suggested that if the pilot cars were further ahead of the trucks, they could warn the drivers of oncoming traffic.
Others were also concerned. Bill Hughes spoke to the committee about the oil and gas traffic on Doolin Run road. He remarked that EQT also had pilot trucks that were not far enough away from the trucks they were guiding, to make a difference. He stated that the companies did not coordinate or communicate with each other.
Hughes cautioned, “Doolin is a dangerous road in daylight, good weather, in a small vehicle.”
He then presented pictures of trucks allegedly carrying hazardous materials, sitting in the ditches on Doolin Run road, as well as four truck long convoys passing each other.
Hughes cautioned, “The more and more we see this, the more and more we know we’re on borrowed time.”
In other news, Brian Jones, transportation director for Wetzel County Schools, handed out a schedule of days school will be in session and educated the committee on how to be notified, via automated phone calls, of last minute changes due to inclement weather.
Jones went on to address the task force about an incident that happened on Co. Rd. 89, Proctor Run Rd. He explained that a school bus was unlawfully passed on the left-hand side while it was stopped on the road with its lights flashing. Jones presented pictures and videos to the committee, taken from the cameras installed on the bus. Although these pictures clearly displayed the truck involved in the incident, the license plate number was not captured from the video. It was noted that it was a Ford 350 with dual wheels and a generator or fuel tank on the back.
Jones emphasized, “This is a $60,000 or $70,000 truck. A typical land owner out 89… I don’t envision them driving this truck, typically.”
He then urged, “This practice must stop. We can’t be in such a hurry that we place residents or pedestrians at risk.”
The operator driving the bus that day stated that he always pulls over to let traffic pass when there is a place to do so. He understands that people live out that road and are trying to get to work on time.
Jones reminded, “We want to be a good neighbor; we want to be kind, and we want to be courteous.”
The next meeting of the Oil and Gas Task Force is scheduled for Jan 19 at 10 a.m.
The Wetzel County LEPC (Local Emergency Planning Committee) also met at the Mollohan Center on Oct. 20.
Ray Renaud updated the committee on WCOEM obtaining two radiation gauges used for contamination and survey, and two wearable devices that alert the user if they are in a radiation field.
Ed Sapp, director of Wetzel County’s Office of Emergency Management, informed the committee of his continued effort to retain a representative in Wetzel County for the Red Cross. He stated that it would be nice to have a local representative so the county doesn’t have to wait on the Red Cross during an emergency. Sapp reported he does have one person that is currently training as a volunteer.
Larry Couch, present on behalf of Blue Racer, reported that the plant now has two portable air monitors available to test for hazardous chemicals. He advised the committee that he could bring them the air filters in the event of an emergency. Couch stated that there was a table-top exercise in Marshall County that Blue Racer, Westlake, Covestro, Marshall County Emergency Management and Wetzel County Emergency Management participated in, that was intended to prepare the agencies for a chlorine leak.
Couch went on to state, “A lot of the public doesn’t understand everything industries have to do to protect their people and the public and I think all that came out, and I think that helped to open some eyes.”
Sapp inquired about a full-scale exercise on Nov. 2. Couch explained that Westlake would be conducting that exercise, so he was not aware of all the details. He believes that there will be a mock casualty, and mock injuries during the exercise. It is expected that both Wetzel County Hospital and Reynolds Memorial Hospital will be participating in this exercise as well.
After watching a video of the flooding that happened in Hundred, W.Va in July 2017, Ray Renaud presented a flooding annex to the emergency operating plan for Wetzel County, stating that the Wetzel County Commission is responsible for evacuation orders in concert with the OEM director.
In response to this information, Renaud contacted the National Weather Service and learned how the county can monitor its own rainfall, without contacting the National Weather Service. He learned that there were already rain gauges installed in the county, along with an agreement with the National Weather Service to maintain those gauges. Renaud stated that when he accessed the rain gauges online, he was able to use them to track rainfall.
The committee had a series of questions concerning who should be issuing warnings, the county commission, or the National Weather Service. Renaud agreed to find out more information regarding the matter.
The next meeting of the L.E.P.C. is Jan. 19, at 11 a.m.