Protect W.Va. environment

It is inevitable that production of energy will cause some damage to the environment. The challenge for companies involved in the work, as well as government regulators, is to minimize it. Major damage to the earth, streams and the air should not be tolerated at all.

Like most major companies in oil and gas production, MarkWest Energy seems to take stewardship of the environment seriously. “There is no higher priority for MarkWest than the safety and protection of our employees, the environment and the communities where we operate,” a company spokesman told our reporter.

But during the past few years, at least three cases of stream pollution have involved the company.

West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection officials decided to fine the company $306,000 for stream pollution that occurred between October 2011 and July 2012 near a MarkWest facility in Wetzel County. Hillside slips were blamed for the problem.

Then, earlier this year, a small landslide near another Wetzel County stream broke a MarkWest pipeline, resulting in pollution of another stream.

And this fall, a MarkWest contractor’s pipeline crew, boring a hole under Little Wheeling Creek, accidentally released about 6,000 gallons of “drilling mud” into the stream. Pollution there seems to have been minimal, with only about 30 fish killed.

MarkWest acted quickly to minimize damage to the creek.

DEP officials have decided to issue a formal citation against the company for the Little Wheeling Creek accident. That could result in the company being fined.

Again, the very nature of energy production results in some damage to the environment. Hillside slips that break pipelines and rock formations that include cracks allowing drilling mud to flow into streams are difficult, sometimes impossible, to predict.

Still, the DEP is right to be watching MarkWest and other gas industry companies carefully. Otherwise, some firms and their workers might take the attitude that, well, accidents will happen.

West Virginians have seen what can happen when energy companies are not held to account for devastating our beautiful state. Gas industry companies need to be kept on their toes and held accountable for their operations.