Americans need the enormous new supplies of natural gas being found in this region of the country. West Virginians and Ohioans need the jobs that come with gas drilling and processing. Local and state economies need the boosts that come from the industry.
But not at the expense of unnecessary destruction of the environment.
Two years ago, residents of some areas of Wetzel County discovered some streams had been damaged badly by crews working for Chesapeake Energy. In one case, a waterfall on Blake Fork was destroyed so a road could be constructed to a drilling site.
It appears Chesapeake has repaired much or all of the damage caused-but that does not change the fact that the company broke the law in the first place. Violations of the federal Clean Water Act were committed.
Last week, Chesapeake agreed to settle pending legal action by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, related to the Wetzel County problems. Subject to approval by U.S. District Court Judge Frederick P. Stamp Jr., the deal with the EPA calls for Chesapeake to pay a $600,000 fine and be placed on probation for two years. During that period the company's activities will be supervised even more intensively than normal by the EPA.
EPA officials, noting they worked closely with U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld on the case, stressed it sets something of a precedent. The action was the first by the agency related to drilling in the Marcellus Shale and under the EPA's Energy Extraction Initiative.
Let's hope it is the last such prosecution-not because the agency backs away from such activity but because the gas industry pays more attention to obeying laws such as the Clean Water Act.
When the Marcellus Shale drilling boom began in West Virginia, some local residents rightfully worried gas companies would be allowed to destroy the environment at will, with little or no attempt made to stop them. The prosecution of Chesapeake for actions in Wetzel County should send a signal that is not the case-that while we welcome gas drilling here, we will insist that rules meant to safeguard the environment be obeyed.