WHEELING - Three biology professors discussing natural gas fracking at Wheeling Jesuit University on Monday stopped short of calling for a full ban on the procedure, but they clearly have questions regarding the process.
From as far away as Los Angeles and New York City, roughly 100 concerned students, residents, activists and professors attended the Monday meeting. About 20 of them even brought in water testing results to be included in WJU research to establish a baseline of water quality in the Ohio Valley.
"If you are living on rural well water in the vicinity of these operations, you should have your water tested almost daily," said Ben Stout, professor of biology at WJU.
Joining Stout at the university Monday were John Stolz, director of the Center for Environmental Research and Education at Duquesne University, and Yuri Gorby, a microbiology professor at the University of Southern California. Bethany native Gorby is a graduate of Brooke High School and Bethany College.
The professors noted they invited representatives from Chesapeake Energy, the area's most active natural gas driller, to speak at the forum.
"We wanted to be sure we had only the most expert people available to participate in tonight's panel, and unfortunately, our experts were not available this week," Chesapeake's Senior Director of Corporate Development Stacey Brodak said when asked about the meeting. "Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has been safely performed for more than 60 years. The advantages of today's technology, combined with best management practices, have made the process progressively more sophisticated to ensure integrity of the wellbore and protection of freshwater resources through installation of successive layers of steel casing and cement."
The professors are not quite as sure, however.
"We are behind the curve on this, as scientists, and we are trying to catch up," said Stolz. "This has swept through the region very rapidly."
Stolz and Gorby also questioned the idea that fracking could not endanger a water aquifer just because the fracking takes place thousands of feet below the water source. This is because, they say, the cement casing may not fill the well as it is supposed to, particularly in areas that may have underground "pockets," which may be present due to coal mining operations.
When asked if he believed fracking could be a safe process, Gorby said, "We simply do not know enough as scientists to say this could be safe or not. We don't have enough data yet."
Another informational forum on fracking is set for 7 p.m. today at Bethany Town Hall in Bethany.