MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — A top West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection official said it wouldn’t make sense for him to allow waste from Marcellus shale gas drilling to be disposed at North Mountain Sanitary Landfill near Hedgesville, W.Va., now that state lawmakers have moved to institute a comprehensive ban that would apply there.
Members of the Legislative Rule-Making Review Committee last week modified a proposed rule to address concern about the potential for hazardous drill-cutting waste being disposed in karst regions of the state like the Eastern Panhandle.
Though the rule still requires approval by the state legislature, Scott Mandirola, the state DEP’s director of water and waste management, said Thursday he doesn’t see any reason why he would issue a special waste permit at this point to allow the waste to be disposed at the landfill in Berkeley County.
“My understanding is they’re not inclined to take (the waste) anyway,” said Mandirola, who noted that operators of the landfill had not applied for any special waste permits.
The shale, which is fractured to extract gas, contains low levels of naturally occurring radiation, and the ground water in karst areas, landscape formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks, are especially susceptible to contamination because of fast flow rates — sometimes greater than one mile per day — and little opportunity for filtering of water.
Though the Eastern Panhandle is far from much of West Virginia’s Marcellus shale gas-drilling activity, Berkeley County Solid Waste Authority Chairman Clint Hogbin said there has been ongoing concern that the waste could be shipped in from closer out-of-state operations.
“This is a step in the process, but it is a very significant step,” Hogbin said. “We got to keep our eyes on this thing in the next (legislative) session.”
Hogbin lauded the efforts of State Sens. John Unger, Herb Snyder, Craig Blair and Donald Cookman and Dels. Jason Barrett and Stephen Skinner for working to get the proposed rule modified during the rule-making committee meeting last week. Unger and Snyder both serve on the interim committee.
Unger said there was a move to bring the radioactive waste from Pennsylvania to the landfill in Berkeley County.”I’ve stood up against this and have been fighting it for some time now,” said Unger, who is seeking re-election in the 16th district on Nov. 4. He is opposed by Berkeley County Republican Larry V. Faircloth, a former member of the West Virginia House of Delegates.
Hogbin said the need for the modification surfaced after Cookman identified a loophole in House Bill 107 during the first special session of the legislature in April, but was unable to get the legislation amended.
Lawmakers had successfully prohibited the creation of a separate “cell” at landfills in karst areas of the state for disposing shale drilling waste, but did not prohibit the material from being mixed in with other waste, according to Hogbin.
Mandirola said the DEP did not object to the modification to the proposed rule and noted he hasn’t heard any opposition to the provision.
Hogbin said the exact approved modification language is: “No commercial solid waste facility located in a county that is, in whole or in part, within a karst region as determined by the West Virginia Geologic and Economic Survey, may accept drill cuttings and drilling waste generated from horizontal well sites.”
Aside from the groundwater protection issue, the potential for transporting hazardous waste through residential areas in the Hedgesville area also is cause for concern, Hogbin said.
The threat of groundwater contamination has been a longstanding concern at the landfill along Allensville Road, according to files maintained the Berkeley County Solid Waste Authority.
A letter by the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey in August 1986 that stated, in part, “that a worse site could not have been picked” and a University of Toledo geology professor in a 1990 letter opposing the landfill predicted eventual groundwater contamination in the “Great Valley east of North Mountain.”
“It is located with no regard to local geology. It will most certainly present monumental problems for the citizens of Berkeley County in the near future,” the professor stated.
In addition to the ground water contamination threat from radiation in the drilling waste, officials have aired concerns about the need for radiation monitoring at landfills.
Radioactivity monitoring of the drilling waste is required to begin Jan. 1, Hogbin said.