N.Y. firm has public meeting about drilling

By Chris Dickerson | Feb 3, 2011

GLEN DALE – An environmental attorney from New York visited Marshall County on Wednesday to provide information about water and air pollution from Marcellus Shale activity.

Julia LeMense of the New York firm of Weitz & Luxenberg hosted a public meeting Feb. 2 at John Marshall High School. According to the Wheeling Intelligencer newspaper, about 100 people attended the meeting.

A Marshall County man at Wednesday's meeting said he water well had been contaminated with methane and that natural gas began bubbling in Fish Creek shortly after Chesapeake Energy began drilling activity -- known as fracking -- near his well, according to the newspaper article.

One of the slides LeMense presented to the crowd Wednesday featured this heading: ''Water supplies can become contaminated with explosive levels of methane.''

"During the fracking process, drillers such as Chesapeake and others pump 5 million to 6 million gallons of water, sand and chemicals thousands of feet into the ground with a force as high as 10,000 pounds per square inch," the paper reports. "After the rock is fractured, 15-40 percent of the fluid flushes back up through the well. According to Chesapeake, its most common fracking solution contains 0.5 percent chemicals. These include substances found in antifreeze, swimming pool cleaner, deodorant and hair coloring.

LeMense told the paper that "information about much of the material used in fracking is protected because it is proprietary."

''We know almost nothing about 43 percent of the chemicals used in fracking,'' she told the paper.

According to the newspaper report, New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is a partner at Weitz & Luxenberg. The New York Post reports that Silver leads the fight to block fracking in New York, while other lawyers with the firm are "in other states trying to drum up multi-million dollar lawsuits against the practice."

Wednesday's event, which was touted as a public forum for Marshall County residents to raise concerns about the adverse effects of natural gas drilling in the area, had been postponed from January because of weather.

Before the first scheduled meeting, the executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse said local residents may be concerned about increased drilling, but he also warned those attending to go in with their eyes open.

"Area residents need to realize that while this law-firm-sponsored event is held out as a 'public forum,' an ulterior motive could be to sign up plaintiffs for potential future lawsuits," WV CALA Executive Director Richie Heath said last month. "Anyone attending should go in knowing that the out-of-state personal injury law firm providing them with information has a profit motive for doing so.

"Area residents need to ask themselves why a New York-based personal injury law firm is interested all of the sudden in holding informational meetings in Marshall County, West Virginia."

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