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Sportsmen’s Groups Enter Drilling Debate


While Marcellus Shale gas wells promise to be the biggest boom in a generation to West Virginia some sportsmen’s groups are trying to make sure hunters and anglers aren’t lost in the debate.

The West Virginia Legislature is due to meet in special session later this year.  The special session is aimed primarily at redrawing Congressional and legislative district boundaries to reflect the most recent census data.  However, it’s been discussed lawmakers may consider a framework of regulations for the new horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques in West Virginia.  The new drilling procedures are vital in capturing the gas trapped deep in the ground.   Already groups are forming in hopes of having a say in how the legislation is crafted.

"We recognized the sportsmen and women’s voice was missing form this public dialogue about Marcellus Shale gas development," said Katie Dunlap with the Sportsman’s Alliance for Marcellus Conservation. "So we began to reach out to various sportsmen’s organizations."

Several conservation groups from West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York have joined the alliance in hopes of making the issues which matter to sportsmen part of any legislative framework.

Most of the debate to this point has focused on the potential environmental impacts of the drilling.   Environmental protection groups fear hydraulic fracturing poses a threat to groundwater and stream sources.   The sportsman’s groups have more pinpoint concerns.

"What we often hear about is the possible contamination of drinking water, but specific to sportsmen and women they’re concerned about the impact to fish and wildlife from surface activity necessary to make hydraulic fracture happen," Dunlap explained. "You have over a thousand trucks coming to each site to bring the water and chemicals.  You’ll have potential erosion issues, new roads bisecting the landscape and impacting wildlife migration corridors and the loud noise from the drilling process can impact wildlife habitat and migratory patterns."

Among the ideas the Sportsman’s Alliance touts beyond some regulation of surface activity, they’d like to see a shutdown of drilling on the opening day of various hunting seasons.   They also discuss the idea of scaling back operations during critical mating seasons.

"Most of the regulations, while they look at some of the environmental impact, don’t necessarily look at sportsmen and women’s issues," said Dunlap. "Some of the specifics we are recommending, prohibiting drilling and truck traffic on opening day of major hunting seasons.  We’re talking about five or six days we’re asking the agency and industry to look out for this important heritage that hunters and anglers hold."

Other suggestions are refraining from drilling on certain areas long considered key hunting or fishing spots or at least adding layers of regulation to protect those areas.    The group would also like to see high fencing required around wastewater sites and drilling areas to reduce wildlife exposure to the chemicals and water used in the drilling process. 

Despite their concerns, Dunlap says the group also recognizes the economic potential of the drilling and doesn’t want to paralyze such a promising windfall to the states.  She said their goal isn’t to stop drilling, but to make sure it’s done in a manner protecting hunting and fishing interests as the process unfolds. 


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