Cumberland Times-News

March 15, 2013

WVU study: Gas drilling pits are potential hazards

Report was first of three due to lawmakers

Associated Press

— CHARLESTON (AP) — West Virginia University researchers say improper construction, soil erosion and seepage are among the problems the state must address with waste pits used by the natural gas drilling industry.

The report they produced for legislators says that while engineers found no imminent threat of impoundment failures, “the problems identified do constitute a real hazard and present risk if allowed to progress.”

The Charleston Gazette says the report, summarized for lawmakers in Charleston on Friday, also found fault with how the state Department of Environmental Protection’s poorly trained inspectors have handled the impoundments.

“Consequently, the inspectors only targeted the readily apparent problems such as slips and slides,” the report said, “while not recognizing, or fully understanding, the smaller problem indicators.”

But DEP officials say they’ve since provided more training for inspectors on proper design, construction and maintenance. That training will be ongoing, the agency said.

The DEP study was required by law to be completed by Jan. 1, but DEP Secretary Randy Huffman delayed its delivery to the Legislature until this week to remove unsolicited recommendations.

Huffman said in late January the researchers went beyond the scope of their mission.

West Virginia’s Horizontal Well Act of 2011 directed DEP to study the safety of pits and impoundments, “including an evaluation of whether testing and special regulatory provision is needed for radioactivity or other toxins held in the pits.”

A second mandated study will focus on noise, light and dust from drilling sites. A third, on air pollution, is due July 1.