Eds: Updates with comment from Rauch, DEP spokeswoman.
JACKSONBURG, W.Va. (AP) — The Lewis Wetzel Wildlife Management Area in Wetzel County has become home to more than deer and other critters.
Several energy companies have moved into Lewis Wetzel to drill for natural gas.
The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources owns the surface land. But the DNR owns mineral rights to only 400 acres in the 13,590-acre wildlife area. Private individuals own the remaining mineral rights and some are leasing these rights to energy companies.
“The mineral owners have the legal right to retrieve their minerals from the land,” Steven Rauch, a Division of Natural Resources biologist who oversees the preserve, told The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register (http://bit.ly/13oDPSe) .
Rauch said that the DNR is working with the companies to minimize the impact of drilling on the preserve.
“Most of them try to cooperate with us,” he said.
Most of Lewis Wetzel, which is a popular hunting site, has not been affected or the effects have been temporary, Rauch said. But drilling equipment and the noise can have a negative impact on hunters.
“They limit the work the best they can during turkey season and deer season,” Rauch said. “When they are working, those sections are closed off to the hunters as a safety precaution.”
Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Kathy Cosco said that there have been some drilling-related environmental problems in the preserve in the past and the DEP has issued several notices of violation. The notices required the companies to repair some slips, install silt fencing to manage sediment and erosion, and take samples in a nearby stream.
“We have taken representatives of the DNR along on site visits during the various stages of the drilling, including the reclamation phases,” Cosco said.
Rauch said Lewis Wetzel is a popular wildlife management area and the DNR will work to preserve it.
Information from: The Intelligencer, http://www.theintelligencer.net