CHARLES TOWN – The Eastern Panhandle won’t see fracking waste at its only landfill, thanks to a change by an area lawmaker to a bill that will allow certain facilities to accept unlimited quantities of it.
[cleeng_content id=”274335832″ description=”Read it now!” price=”0.49″ t=”article”]That bill, House Bill 107, is awaiting signature by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin after passing both the House and Senate by wide margins.
The amendment, drafted by Sen. Herb Snyder disallows the construction of special cells to accept unlimited quantities of the drill cuttings in any county with significant deposits of karst – a porous limestone through which water flows quickly, and which underlies much of Berkeley and Jefferson counties.
Those special cells could only be constructed in seven landfills which have already put in applications to construct them – all of which are located in the western part of the state.
Clint Hogbin, who chairs the Berkeley County Solid Waste Authority and who was a vocal opponent of the original bill, says that the karst amendment greatly reduced the potential exposure of the Eastern Panhandle to disposal of drill cuttings.
“This is a clear victory for those seeking to reduce the possibility of fracking waste being landfilled in the Eastern Panhandle,” he wrote in an email. “[The] special ‘unlimited tonnage’ Marcellus cells are not permitted in counties that contain any karst.”
The bill was brought up during a special session called by Tomblin to deal with several bills the legislature was unable to act upon before the deadline. Its language is similar to HB4411, which was brought up in the regular session and came close to passing.
The bill, which was authored by the Department of Environmental Protection, had been strongly endorsed by the Independent Oil and Gas Association, which represents many of the state’s hydraulic fracturing drillers, but had drawn the ire of green groups, who raised concerns about dangerous chemicals in the drill cuttings, and many local regulators, who argued that allowing unlimited quantities of waste would dramatically cut the lifetime of landfills. The bill also mandates that the state Department of Environmental Protection, monitor the sites for radioactivity and conduct a study on leaching.
Delegate Stephen Skinner, who voted against the bill passed Friday, called it “a Band-Aid on a very serious problem.”
According to the DEP, six landfills in the state are currently accepting the drilling mud.
A July 2013 memorandum from DEP Cabinet Secretary Randy Huffman allowed landfills in the process of applying for a permit to expand from a Class B to Class A landfill to accept drilling waste beyond their monthly tonnage limits until June 1, 2014. The memo is in response to the Natural Gas Horizontal Well Control Act of 2011, which required drill cuttings to be disposed of “in an approved solid waste facility.”
Hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking, involves pumping huge volumes of water, sand and chemicals underground to split open rocks to allow oil and gas to flow. Improved technology has allowed energy companies to gain access to huge stores of natural gas underneath numerous states but has raised widespread concerns that it might lead to groundwater and other contamination.
Fracking waste consists of drilling mud from laced containing some chemical byproducts of fracking. Because it comes from deep in the Marcellus Shale, the mud is more radioactive than topsoil.
Hogbin said some drill cuttings could still potentially make their way to the LCS landfill in Berkeley County, where they could be mixed into the normal municipal waste cells. They would be counted as normal waste, however, and any drill cuttings disposed of would have to fall under the ordinary 10,000 ton per month cap at the facility, reducing the possibility that the landfill’s life would be dramatically shortened.
Sen. Donald Cookman proposed a second amendment which would have prevented disposal of drill cuttings in normal municipal waste cells in counties containing Karst, but the Senate did not adopt it. The amended bill won the votes of Snyder and Delegate Paul Espinosa. Besides Skinner, Sen. John Unger and Delegate Tiffany Lawrence also voted against it.
The West Virginia Environmental Council issued a statement Thursday that municipal solid waste landfills are not designed to handle the sheer bulk of the fracking waste or the possibility they contain heavy metals, petroleum hydrocarbons, and radioactive materials.
Don Garvin, legislative coordinator for the Environmental Council, said West Virginia’s solid waste laws have worked well for over 20 years. “There is no need to ignore tonnage caps or to disregard siting plans established by local solid waste authorities.”
Tom Aluise, spokesman for the DEP, said the Horizontal Well Control Act passed in 2011 mandates this drilling waste must be disposed of in landfills. Because of this legislation, cuttings would move into landfills with or without the drilling bill passed Friday.
If landfills cannot accept the drilling cuttings because of monthly tonnage limits, gas drilling companies would be forced to take their cuttings to regulated facilities out of state, he said.
Before the act, cuttings were being buried — unchecked — on well pads all over the state. Aluise said landfills are “a much better option from an environmental standpoint because landfills are regulated by the state. They are lined, have leak detection systems and groundwater monitoring wells.”
— The Associated Press contributed to this report[/cleeng_content]