Marcellus Issues in West Virginia: An Introduction

Waste and Waste Management, part 3

In part 1 we discussed the types of waste and its constituents. In part 2 we covered the regulatory framework for West Virginia which determines how this waste is managed. Now we'll discuss problems and specific issues with West Virginia's waste management program.

Issues with West Virginia's Waste Management Program

The types of waste and the regulatory and guidance framework for the state's management have been discussed on the previous pages. This page will examine issues with the regulatory framework, shortcomings in the guidances and general permits, and how the Office of Oil and Gas' program has been managed.

The state's regulatory framework is generally non-specific which could allow the Office of Oil and Gas to step in and exercise more control over industry's activities. The Office has done just the opposite. Its program is haphazard with requirements not easily accessed by citizens or industry if they exist at all.

Pit Waste Burial

The Argonne National Laboratory's Drilling Waste Management Information System web site recommends that pit waste to be buried be tested before burial to make sure the waste fits within specific parameters related to chloride, metals, and other substances. The waste must be buried at least 5 feet above seasonal high groundwater. And the waste must have at least 3 feet of cover. The state requires none of these things except the last -- the requirement for 3 feet of cover is found in the West Virginia Erosion and Sediment Control Field Manual, of all places.

Horizontal well pit waste can be buried on site, according to state law, if the surface owner allows it.

Liquid Waste Disposal

The 1988 general permit allows the land application of liquid drill waste and flowback if the concentration is less than 12,500 ppm for chloride. The restriction is solely based on concentration even though the waste is land applied -- there is no restriction on load (how much waste can be applied on a specific area). There is no requirement for the laboratory analysis of the fluid for heavy metals. There is no time requirement taking in consideration the soil's ability to absorb the fluid. There is no prior sampling of the soil before the land application or after to determine if the land application negatively affected the soil. There is no post examination of the application area vegetation. All of these deficiencies have led to problems with land application of waste, including killing of vegetation along with large trees.

The best study of the negative effects of land application under this permit is still the Forest Service study of the effects of drilling a vertical well in the Fernow Experimental Forest in Tucker county. Land application killed vegetation in the application area where waste was sprayed. A paper discusses the persistence of elevated chloride in soil after land application and the effects on trees.

While land application of liquid horizontal waste is not permitted, the problems with the general permit and the absence of action by the Office of Oil and Gas exemplify the state's waste management deficiencies.

For operators not able to recycle waste, and unable to locate a waste treatment facility nearby, a UIC well is the best disposal option. These wells inject waste under pressure deep underground into a formerly producing natural gas formation. The program appears to have strict controls as to UIC operator requirements but the federally required periodic inspection of facilities appear not to be done by the Office of Oil and Gas. Wells are not found in noncompliance even when operators don't fulfill permit monitoring, reporting, or other requirements.


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