Fracking: Lawmakers could still open landfills to waste

CHARLES TOWN – Despite a flurry of effort to come up with a bill to allow disposal of fracking waste in commercial landfills – and broad support for the effort in both chambers of the Legislature – the regular session ended before a final bill could be drafted.

[cleeng_content id=”454317083″ description=”Read it now!” price=”0.49″ t=”article”]The effort was opposed by solid waste authorities, environmental organizations and many delegates from the Eastern Panhandle.

Early versions of House Bill 4411 would have placed no caps on the quantity of drill cuttings a landfill could accept, would not have required landfills to seek a certificate of need from the Public Service Commission, and did not include a “sunset provision” under which the right of landfill operators to accept drill cuttings would expire without reauthorization by the Legislature.

The House Judiciary Committee later added a number of restrictions, including sunsetting the legislation on Jan. 1, 2017, ensuring that landfill operators could not turn away ordinary municipal garbage, requiring landfills that accept drill cuttings to install radiation detectors, and adding a $1 per ton fee for drill cuttings. The funds generated by the fee were to be spent on a study to determine what is in the drill cuttings and on a special road fund to repair roads worn out by fracking waste haulers.

The Senate Government Organizations Committee, chaired by Sen. Herb Snyder, later added language that would have prohibited landfills in counties with karst geology – a porous limestone through which groundwater flows relatively quickly – from accepting drill cuttings. That move would have excluded the LCS Landfill in Berkeley County, since karst underlies most of that area.

But when the bill was sent back to the House, delegates refused to accept it, citing two apparently contradictory sections of the bill. One stated that landfills could “lawfully receive drill cuttings and drilling waste generated from horizontal well sites above the monthly tonnage limits,” while another indicated that “the quantities of drill cuttings and drilling waste received at that facility shall be counted and applied toward the facility’s established tonnage cap.”

The bill was then sent into a six-member conference committee composed of members of both chambers, including Snyder. But they did not have time write out a bill before the 9 p.m. deadline.

“We had to meet extremely quickly,” Snyder said. “We ran out of time.”

Nonetheless, Snyder said the conference committee did come up with a bill that members thought could make it through both houses, and that bill is, in his judgement, likely to be brought to the floor during a special session because of the economic impact drilling could have on the state.

“Marcellus shale is probably one of the brightest spots in West Virginia’s future,” he said.

The text of that bill is not available on the Legislature’s website.

“This is turning out to be a very good environmental bill – much better than what they are doing now,” Snyder said. “Right now they are just taking it to the landfills and mixing it in with the other waste.”

He indicated that the conference bill will contain all the environmental measures from the House version, but will remove the sunset provision.

“The House position was that they want to sunset this after two years,” he said. “The problem is that these are public utilities. It’s as if you were to build a power grid to serve people and later you find out that you aren’t allowed to keep serving them.”

“You don’t build a cell for two years. You build it for 10,” he said.

But Clint Hogbin, who chairs the Berkeley County Solid Waste Authority, said removing the sunset provision is a mistake.

“The House version was essentially, ‘Let’s keep landfilling it. Let’s do some studies. Then, by this date, let’s bring everyone back under their tonnage caps and let’s see if there is a better way to handle the stuff,’” Hogbin said. “The Senate version took the House version and made it permanent rather than a temporary fix.”

Hogbin advocates building a separate industrial waste facility especially for fracking waste, rather than putting it into municipal landfills.

“Quite frankly, I would like West Virginia to look at the way North Dakota is handling the material. They have built an industrial waste landfill specific for that material, and they have kept it out of of their municipal solid waste landfills,” he said. “One of the studies was to see if it was economically feasible to have an industrial waste landfill established for the material.”

Bill Hughes, who chairs the Wetzel County Solid Waste Authority and has been a vociferous critic of landfilling drill cuttings, calls a separate, industry-funded facility one that would be better designed to deal with the specific compounds like salts, heavy metals and naturally occurring radioactive materials that are found in drill cuttings.

“There are thousands of formulations for plastic liners to deal with different materials,” he said.” You need to know what is going to be in there. You can’t just take a generic liner for household garbage and start putting shale waste that has a lot of salinity, dissolved solids, heavy metals and some radioactive materials in it and assume it will last forever.”

Solid waste authorities also complain that, if the bill allows landfills to exceed their normal tonnage caps, landfills will fill up more quickly.

“It definitely cuts down on the usable life of a landfill,” Hughes said.[/cleeng_content]


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