WELLSBURG - On Tuesday the leader of a local industry told Wellsburg City Council the area will see a tremendous economic boost from the natural gas industry, and council moved to change the makeup of its park and recreation committee.
Joe Eddy, president and chief executive officer for Eagle Manufacturing, told council the city and region stands to gain economically from natural gas drilling and the development of facilities to process the resource.
Eddy said news of an ethane cracker plant could come to the region in the next six months but added he couldn't elaborate more.
He said the plant would be a boon to Eagle because it would supply polyethylene, a chemical used by Eagle in the production of its safety equipment and currently transported to Eagle from the Houston, Texas area.
Eddy said the plant also would benefit many others, creating at least 17,000 jobs within the natural gas industry and 395,000 outside it and generating $95 million in state tax dollars.
He noted polyethylene and other products of cracking are used to produce a variety of products, including building materials, household cleaners and clothing.
The figures were gathered by the Just Beneath the Surface Alliance, which is supported by the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia and the West Virginia Petroleum Council, a division of the American Petroleum Institute, and can be found at www.justbeneaththesurfacewv.com.
It's a presentation Eddy delivered previously to members of the Wellsburg Chamber of Commerce and others.
Asked if anyone had approached city officials about leasing property for drilling or developing an ethane cracker near the city, Mayor Sue Simonetti said no.
Simonetti said Eddy's presentation was intended only to encourage city officials to welcome any natural gas-related industries to the area.
Last year council both passed and repealed, by a narrow margin, a ban on natural gas drilling in the city and within a mile of it, citing concerns about the reservoir that is the city's water supply being contaminated by drilling of private property leased near it.
The drilling is done through hydraulic fracturing, a process that involves blasting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals, some of them toxic, into the underground Marcellus shale to release the natural gas.
Eddy said the drilling occurs several thousands of feet below underground water tables, and several layers of steel and cement casing separate the frack water from it. A former petroleum engineer, he said the process is safe when done properly.
Opponents of hydraulic fracturing point to incidents in which wastewater from the process was spilled outside the wells or methane from abandoned coal mines was released, resulting in fires.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is investigating reports of contamination from natural gas drilling in several areas, including Washington County, Pennsylvania.
In other business, council agreed to restructure its park and recreation committee to consist of five council members like other city committees. Currently it's comprised of 10 volunteer citizens and one council member, 2nd Ward Councilman Paul T. Billiard.
Billiard suggested the change, saying members of the committee are apathetic because they don't feel their recommendations are being considered by council.
"We've seen where we've gone with parks and rec. It's gone nowhere. I'd like us to take the ideas people have suggested and move forward with it," he said.
Billiard and fellow 2nd Ward Councilman Ron Michaux said the board could still only make recommendations to council and it would encourage public input at its meetings.
The move, which will require the adoption of an ordinance by council, also was supported by 1st Ward Councilmen Bruce Hunter and Mike Mitchell, 3rd Ward Councilman Tom R. Diserio and 4th Ward Councilman Jeff Tarr.
Third Ward Councilman Randy Fletcher said he opposed it because he feels it limits public input. He said if the committee's volunteer members weren't turning out for meetings, they should be replaced with someone who will.
Fletcher suggested reducing the number of people on the committee and thus the quorum required would have made it possible to hold more meetings.
Though she votes only to break a tie, Simonetti also voiced opposition to the new configuration, saying she preferred to have at least two volunteers on the panel.
In related business, council received some good news as officials with St. John Catholic Church announced they will donate to the city the playground and fence from the former St. John School for use at the city's 4th Ward Park.
Council also heard from Mary Fran Joseph, a resident of 22nd Street Extension, who complained of mice and other wild animals, discarded furniture and other trash and overgrown grass at a residence in her neighborhood.
Wellsburg Police Chief Stanley Kins said the owner recently was cited and fined, through Wellsburg Municipal Court, but the matter is complicated because the owner is in jail on another charge.
Simonetti told Joseph city officials would investigate and see what they can do.
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