Incompetence and Complacency Increase Dangers from Fracking

Gas leak in Doddridge County, W.Va. is a sentinel warning

By Michael M. Barrick

Note: This is the fifth installment in a series about fracking, (hydraulic fracturing for natural gas), controversial because of its impact on public safety and health, as well as the environment.

The leak of approximately 120 gallons of natural gas liquids into the air in Doddridge County, W.Va. on October 9 should serve as a sentinel warning to those supporting the fracking industry and all of those impacted by it.

While it is true that the leak in the Smithburg area of Doddridge County is not related to fracking, that is not the point; rather, what we need to consider is the incompetence and complacency that led to the leak – and the response to it by those charged with protecting the public health and safety. In short, it shows that the gas industry cannot be trusted, and emergency response officials have a lot to learn and improve upon.

A vapor cloud led to a massive traffic jam, injuries to at least two workers, complacent remarks from gas company officials and admissions by emergency officials that they experienced serious communications breakdowns.

This is concerning, considering the rush by gas companies to build fracking sites all over northern West Virginia, in particular in Doddridge County. Naturally, gas company officials claim that fracking is safe. The evidence is quickly mounting to the contrary. From mutated amphibians to workers exposed to carcinogens – and much more – fracking is being proven to not be worth the jobs it is creating.

In response to the accident in Smithburg, a gas company official was quoted in the Clarksburg Exponent Telegram as saying, “During routine loading of natural gas liquids (NGLs) to a tractor-trailer at what’s called a ‘load out’ facility, a leak occurred.” Note the use of the word “routine.” That is a deliberate attempt to downplay the incident. For the workers injured, for the homes evacuated, and for the motorists stranded, it was anything but routine. This is the type of language we can expect from gas companies and all of those in the fracking industry as they destroy the environment and kill people.

The only response to such language is, “cowpatties.”

The gas official was also quoted as saying, “Two employees at the facility were evacuated by medical professionals. However, no one was injured.” Really? A first responder at the scene had a different response. The newspaper reported that he said, “…that two employees were treated at the scene for difficulty breathing.”

Who do you believe?

Also of concern is the acknowledgment by the director of the Doddridge County Office of Emergency Services (OES), Pat Heaster. He told the newspaper that he was not notified of the incident. For those unfamiliar with emergency response, that is an inexcusable lapse. It is the director of OES who is responsible for coordinating disaster response in a county. It is hard to do that when you don’t know there is a disaster.

It is also maddening that he blamed technology. “We’ve had problems with dispatch reaching pagers due to the topography and antennas. We must determine want went wrong with communications.” While technology is a problem in West Virginia, there are still landline telephones. And, one would suspect that police officials or other knows where he lives and from where he works. They certainly could have notified him.

Heaster promised that the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) would meet next week and discuss the problem. If the Doddridge LEPC operates as most others in West Virginia, I would not hold my breath. Or then again, maybe we should.

© Michael Barrick/Appalachian Chronicle, 2014. Barrick is the founder of the Appalachian Preservation Project, LLC. He also works in healthcare as an emergency manager and holds a post-graduate certificate in Community Preparedness and Disaster Management from the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health. He can be contacted via email at


  1. One thing we are learning from the serious situations is that no one, government or private sector can guaranty the safety of citizens all the time whether disease or accident. If we are going to allow unfettered access to the U.S we are going to have to deal with diseases like ebola and the enterovirus 68. If we are going to have a robust economy in the U.S. people cannot be spending all their disposable income on energy.

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