Marcellus Issues in West Virginia: An Introduction

Waste and Waste Management, part 2

We examined the types of waste and its constituents in the first part. We'll now discuss the regulatory framework for West Virginia which determines how this waste is managed. The third part will cover problems and specific issues with West Virginia's waste management program.

West Virginia Regulatory Framework for Waste

The state's waste is managed by permit, guidance, and regulation. There is no consistent approach to waste. What has happened is that the state's existing program for vertical wells, which dates back to the 1980s, has been supplemented recently with guidance for horizontal well development.

The state's regulations govern the structures that contain waste (pits and large volume pits in 35CSR4, supplemented with additional requirements in 35CSR8 for large volume pits, and condensate storage tanks in 35CSR1) with additional guidance on the construction of large volume pits (which contain waste) and impoundments (which contain fresh water).

Waste from vertical wells that is liquid can still be land applied using the 1988 General Water Pollution Control Permit's flawed requirements. Liquid waste from horizontal wells (drill waste and flowback) must be disposed of properly off site.

Solid waste from vertical wells can be buried on the well site with relatively few restrictions (the general permit requires that it be buried at an "adequate" depth). Horizontal well solid waste, unless the surface owner allows burial on site, must be disposed of off site.

Operators' options for disposal of liquid and solid waste off site are limited in West Virginia. There are Underground Injection Control (UIC) wells. Class 2 wells accept liquid oil and gas waste, but there are only a few commercial wells in the state. An operator may construct their own UIC 2 well for their waste or have it injected underground at a commercial site.

There have been attempts to create facilities which would treat liquid waste before allowing the treated liquid to enter surface water. These facilities must manage the organic, heavy metal and high chloride components first so that the treated waste doesn't exceed state water standards found in 47CSR2.

Some operators in their promotional materials describe attempts to recycle liquid waste, generally flowback, so that it can be reused in hydraulically fracturing other wells.

At this point (mid 2013) most liquid waste is not treated or recycled.


West Virginia oil and gas regulations have few specific requirements. Pits must be lined according to 35CSR4 and freeboard must be at least 2 feet. 35CSR8 allows large volume impoundments which hold fresh water to not have a liner.

Storage tanks must be placed within secondary containment so that, if there is a leak or overflow, none of the fluid would reach surface water according to 35CSR1. Operators have been notably deficient in fulfilling this requirement at past vertical well sites but it appears that horizontal wells, thus far, are not showing the same problem.

General Permits

The General Water Pollution Control Permit for vertical and horizontal well waste is GP 1 WV 88 and has been without revision for over 25 years. The General Water Pollution Control Permit for low chloride coalbed methane wells is GP 1 WV 07.

Both permits allow the land application of liquid waste (if it falls within certain parameters). Vertical well drill waste and flowback must be below 12,500 ppm and coalbed methane well waste must be below 1000 ppm for chloride for land application. GP 1 WV 88 also allows the burial of solid waste on site with few restrictions.


There have been a number of guidances created by the Office of Oil and Gas. These take the form of formal guidance documents or memoranda.

The January 2010 Guidance/Memorandum deals primarily with site construction and water use, though acceptable means of disposal of liquid waste are discussed.

The March 2010 Marcellus Pit Memorandum deals with the method of burying solid waste from wells. Encapsulation and solidification of the waste is required.

Operators have had problems with large volume pit and impoundment failure so the Office created a special Guidance document for the construction of these large structures.

Go on to examine the issues with the state's waste management program.


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