CHARLESTON - A handful of passionate opponents spoke out Wednesday against proposed rule revisions for the disposal of waste material from drilling sites.
The comments came during a public hearing at the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection in Charleston.
Members of the Wetzel County Solid Waste Authority, as well as a representative of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, urged officials to reconsider the rules, which opponents say do not protect waterways and the public from toxic and radioactive materials which leach into drinking water.
According to the DEP, the proposed rule revision establishes protocols for the proper handling, management and disposal of drill cuttings and associated drilling mud generated in the exploration and production of oil and gas from the horizontal drilling process. It also requires radiation and leachate monitoring at all facilities receiving drill cuttings and associated drilling mud.
Bill Hughes, a resident of New Martinsville and chairman of the Wetzel County Solid Waste Authority, said the authority hired two companies to draft reports on possible air and water issues stemming from the placement of drill waste in state landfills. Both reports, he said, ultimately stated there was a likely risk to health and too many unknown factors, such as the level of chemical and radiation exposure.
"We're doing things that are really unexamined, unexplored," Hughes said. "This is uncharted territory. We are literally guessing in the dark and we're hoping it's not glowing in the dark."
Hughes said the DEP is too slow to regulate these kinds of issues, often waiting until years after companies have established a broad environmental footprint in an area before beginning to address concerns.
Hughes said since 2011 the state has allowed hundreds of thousands - perhaps millions - of tons of toxic and radioactive materials to be dumped in state landfills with little oversight or thought of long-term consequences.
"It's the long view that motivates me," Hughes said. "What is the state going to be like for our children and grandchildren?"
Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, echoed those concerns.
"These practices are in essence an experiment and the rivers and people of West Virginia are the subjects of this experiment," she said. "We cannot cut corners when it comes to protecting our waters and our health. This problem will not go away. I'm very concerned about our state's handling of this issue."
Tom Aluise, spokesman for the WVDEP, facilitated Wednesday's hearing.
"We'll take all the comments into consideration and submit our agency-approved rule to the Legislature for consideration for the next session," he said, adding the public has been submitting written comments for 30 days, with the period ending Wednesday.
Aluise said a temporary rule is in place governing how the materials from horizontal well development must be stored and tested for radiation. Only a handful of landfills in West Virginia are allowed to accept the materials, nearly all of which comes as a byproduct of horizontal drilling in the Marcellus shale.
The proposed Solid Waste Management Rule 33CSR1, once approved by the Legislature next spring, would replace the emergency rule that went into effect July 10.
"The emergency rule is the exact same thing as the rules we are discussing here tonight. It was put into place to make these guidelines effective immediately," Aluise said. "You need to have a permanent rule in place once the temporary rule expires."
Aluise said all public comments will be included in a report along with the agency's final recommendation.
The full proposal can be viewed on the DEP's website at www.dep.wv.gov/ pio/Pages/Rules.aspx.