CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A West Virginia judge has thrown out new legal challenges to a plan for natural gas production near a Marshall County chemical plant.
Late in December, Marshall Circuit Judge David W. Hummel dismissed legal complaints filed by Axiall Corp. over the natural gas drilling and production operation proposed by Gastar Exploration near Axiall’s chlorine and caustic soda plant at Natrium, located along the Ohio River near the Marshall-Wetzel county line.
In two separate orders, Hummel dismissed Axiall subsidiary Eagle Natrium’s legal claims against Gastar and the company’s arguments against permits issued to Gastar by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Atlanta-based Axiall has been waging a legal battle to stop Gastar from fracking natural gas wells Gastar drilled on Axiall property under leases Gastar obtained from PPG Industries, the former owner of the Natrium plant.
Axiall says it is concerned about a repeat of an August-September 2013 incident it blames on high-pressure fracking fluids being used by another company, Triad Hunter, to release natural gas from the Marcellus Shale at a well site on the other side of the river.
In court documents, Axiall lawyers say increased underground pressure from the fracking at Triad Hunter traveled under the river and somehow made contact with brine wells Axiall uses to obtain saltwater, one of the key materials used in its manufacturing process. Axiall says those pressures led to a blowout in which one of its brine wells at its plant “began spewing flammable natural gas.”
No injuries were reported, but parts of Axiall’s brine production were closed for more than six months for repairs and the company had to set up several large flares to burn off excess natural gas. Axiall was “fortunate to have been able to limit the environmental impact of the Triad Hunter incident and avoid bodily injury or loss of life due to a natural gas explosion or other disaster,” the company says in court records.
Lawyers for Axiall filed their claims in West Virginia after a Pennsylvania judge ruled against them on similar arguments.
In his order dismissing the case against Gastar, Hummel concluded that, “[Axiall] voluntarily sought out the jurisdiction of the Pennsylvania courts, and cannot now seek the same injunctive relief against Gastar in West Virginia that it was denied in the Pennsylvania action.” In his other order, Hummel ruled that state law does not give Axiall standing to challenge DEP orders that allowed Gastar’s fracking operation, but placed some additional restrictions on the company.
by Ken Ward Jr., Staff writer