Where do you turn for answers and help? A burning question as Calhoun County
appears to be a significant player in the resurgence of natural gas production by deep
well drilling. It may well be the counties last hurrah to seek some benefits for its
citizens, royalty holders and small producers. Last night the Calhoun County Board of
Education endorsed the resolution passed last week by the Calhoun Commission,
advocating for local interests.
While wanting a fair shake for the large companies who take business risks to extract
West Virginia's natural resources, the historic facts are dismal. Starting with coal,
McDowell County West Virginia has been the largest producer of coal in America for
Repeatedly we are told that coal has been good for the mountain state. Tax
concessions and economic development dollars for "King Coal" help the economy and
provide needed jobs.
One only has to travel to McDowell County to get the answer. Riddled with
joblessness, loss of population, property and lack of infrastructure, one would never
believe this has been America's center for coal extraction. No amount of public
relation spin by government and the coal industry can remove the sense of
hopelessness and depression I have felt when spending time there. A sense of injury
and abandonment for my fellow West Virginians.
It is understandable why a few thousand remaining miners fight to keep their jobs, but
one needs to be reminded of the tens of thousands who are no longer employed
because of quick, dirty and environmentally unsound mountain top removal. We are
told it is good to have mountains flattened.
The public relation folks say it leaves "a field of dreams." More recently the
devastating floods in southern West Virginia renewed the ominous defense used by
Pittson Coal after the Buffalo Creek disaster in 1973 - it was an "act of God."
The coal companies have been effective in putting out statistics regarding the
amount of rainfall. It would have caused a flood anyway, which may be true. But it
disallows the totality of the problem caused by messing with natural creation.
Many of us who are native Calhouner's, fourth or fifth generation, know well how oil
and gas interests impressed our grandfathers with their offers and leases. Many of
them are still locked-in. Pennies for thousands of dollars of production. Roane
counties early 20th century monster well "The Big Abbott" netted the royalty owner
$50 a year.
While pricey lawyers and lobbyists continue to convince members of the West Virginia
Legislature, many of whom have vested interests themselves, that extractors of
natural resources need special deals and concessions, it is difficult to find a voice for
citizens and the counties who suffer loss in the negotiations. No one has invited
presidents of county commissions to be seated at the legislative table. We learn of
the decisions later, when it's too late.
From Wirt County receiving 80 cents an acre in tax from Westvaco (who own about 1/3
of the counties surface) to Underwood's sold-out deals over extracting coal under
state parks or excusing millions of dollars owed by coal companies to Workman's
Comp, well, the list goes on and on.
With Calhoun County having 62 deep well permits, there is the promise of receiving
some taxes to develop infrastructure and provide some jobs, besides providing better
services and education for our citizens.
That promise is quickly shattered with the review of history and the ongoing
discussion of formulas, tax breaks and uncertainties regarding the taxation of deep
Who will stand for our people and our interests? Please, I would like to know.