The legislative interim session in Wheeling during the sesquicentennial celebration was something I will cherish. Wheeling has the unique privilege of being the only city to serve as the Capitol of two states, Virginia and West Virginia, and it should be recognized for its historical importance. I recommend that everyone visit Independence Hall, the site of our state's first Capitol and founding. The 1859 building-which includes some of the first iron I-beams used in any structure-- has been designated a National Historic Landmark and has been painstakingly restored to its 1863 state. We met in the very room where the constitutional conventions took place. Another highlight was the concert with Landau Eugene Murphy and Kathy Mattea who led the crowd in "Country Roads." Wheeling was a great host.
The interims were not all about celebrations. I had several meetings of substance. One of the topics for the Joint Judiciary interim meeting was titled "Use of coal water for Hydraulic Fracturing." I do not think anyone can read that title and not wonder what the heck is going on. I certainly raised my eyebrows.
Coal wastewater is toxic and harmful to humans and the environment The idea of injecting it into the earth is a horrible idea. It turns out that the topic was really about creating coal wastewater treatment plants and the potential uses for the treated wastewater. We saw a presentation on the location and design water treatment plants, and how the water was treated. One of the advantages of the treated water is that there are mining operations close to some of the well sites. It may be safer and more efficient to use that water at remote fracking well sites than trucking it in over roads or diverting water from streams.
The challenge is not treating wastewater from current operations, but in trying to treat other wastewater from abandoned mines. There is apparently a whole lot of polluted water that could be used, but anyone who uses the water might be subjected to the liability of the original polluter. Sometimes the best environmental work can be bringing industry together with advocates to find solutions for existing problems. Just saying the words coal and fracking will drive many to distraction, but we are all better served by recognizing our environmental problems and working to solve them. If mine run-off, which must be treated can be sold to recoup costs, while leaving other sources of fresh water untouched, then we should consider it, especially since we the taxpayers are ultimately on the hook for abandoned mines. However, if we cannot do it in an economical way that protects further polluting the environment, then we should wait. I look forward to seeing the science and economics the next session during the next session.
Stephen Skinner is a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates for the 67th District.