CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Environmentalists raised concerns about a bill that won final passage Friday in the West Virginia legislature that would overturn caps on how much drilling waste several landfills can accept from hydraulic fracturing.
The bill, approved overwhelmingly in a special session and now sent to the governor, would allow so-called tonnage caps to be lifted for drilling waste at seven landfills that are continuing to pursue a permit to build separate areas for drilling waste. The bill also mandates that the state Department of Environmental Protection, or DEP, monitor the sites for radioactivity and conduct a study on leaching.
The seven landfills are located in the state's Northwest Region and Northern Panhandle.
Del. Stephen Skinner, who voted against the bill passed Friday, called it "a Band-Aid on a very serious problem."
According to the Department of Environmental Protection, 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."
Skinner questioned the legality of the DEP allowing caps to be lifted in July.
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.
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.