By CHRISTIAN HUDSPETH
MARIETTA, Ohio - Neighborhood Watch may soon have a new twist locally as residents explore starting a neighborhood well watching group, aimed to increase communication between the county, oil and gas companies and community members.
"We are in the infancy stage of looking into creating a neighborhood well watching group, so community members can stay on top of this important issue," said Betsy Cook, Lowell resident and member of the Southeast Ohio Fracking Interest Group.
The group is comprised of concerned citizens trying to share information about the oil and gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing processes, according to a release from the organization.
With the first horizontal well in the area scheduled to be drilled this month, fracking is quickly becoming a more important issue, according to Cook.
"Sometime in March the first horizontal well is going to be drilled in Adams Township and we already have 11 injection wells located in the area," she said.
Fracking waste water, also called brine, is also a concern for the area.
It's being shipped into Ohio from neighboring states to be injected into the land, according to Cook.
At a meeting in January, a member brought fourth an issue that sparked the idea for a neighborhood well watch.
"The woman said that she saw a brine truck dumping along the side of the road and wasn't really sure what to think," said Cook. "People have questions when they notice these types of things, and we are trying to figure out the best way to provide them answers."
There are other types of these neighborhood well watching groups across Ohio and West Virginia and they have helped address concerns for citizens, according to Cook.
"A group of well watchers in Wetzel County, W.Va. has had a great deal of success in helping facilitate changes," said Cook. "Especially with regards to traffic related issues."
People were sitting in traffic for hours due to trucks blocking portions of the very narrow roads there, according to Cook.
"They were able to implement a staging area for the company's trucks rather than leaving them on the road," she said. "Instead of having traffic blocked for hours, they were able to voice their concerns and have them addressed."
Bill Hughes, a member of the Wetzel County Action Group, said groups like his are the way that many state organizations find out what is happening.
Small issues like muddy roads and blocking traffic often don't seem like big issues, but they can get under the skin of citizens, he said.
"There are so many problems that gas companies don't usually think about," said Hughes. "Citizens in these groups can provide feedback to help them realize there are these types of issues."
He said it's important for citizens to properly educate themselves if they are going to be in such an organization.
"If you want to be taken seriously you need to build credibility and knowledge on these issues," he said. "Most of the gas guys are good people. They just need some supervision and monitoring."
Realizing that the industry isn't going to be stopped is also very important, according to Hughes.
"You don't need to say you are going to stop this progress, because you can't," he said. "The goal is to achieve a proper balance between the industry, community and environment."
Cook stressed that the goal of the group would be to provide a communication link so questions and concerns could travel both ways.
Washington County Engineer Roger Wright said his office is always willing to try to help community members with concerns as well.
"I think the more we can bring people together and the more discussion there is, the smoother this transition will be," he said.
During any transition like this, residents will have valid concerns regarding a number of issues, Wright said.
"If such a group is created, they are always welcome to call my office with concerns or questions they have," he said. "If they are related to the roads I would do my best to address them. If they were oil and gas related questions I might be able to at least steer them in the right direction."
This type of group could be a good thing for both the community and the oil and gas industry, but only if it's approached the right way, said Marietta resident Dustin Huck, 23.
"Obviously with these companies coming to the area, there are going to be a lot of changes," said Huck. "People need to understand that some things will be positive and some negative."
Huck said he thinks this type of group would be a benefit if it's used to communicate concerns or questions in a reasonable manner.
"It's great for people to voice their concerns to the companies so they will have a better understanding of how to address them," he said. "I just hope people will try to make the best of the situation for all parties involved."
Those interested in joining such a group are encouraged to check out the Southeast Ohio Fracking Interest Group Facebook page, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.