West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection officials seem to be comfortable with a plan for handling solid waste from gas and oil wells. But some people considering the issue think it may require more study.
DEP officials are preparing a proposal for state regulation of how landfills deal with solid waste from the drilling industry. Once their plan is ready, it will be scrutinized by committees in the Legislature. After that, the House of Delegates and state Senate will vote on whether to approve the plan.
During a hearing on the proposal last week, Wetzel County Solid Waste Authority Chairman Bill Hughes told DEP officials there are "a huge number of unanswered questions" about the plan. He noted two consulting firms that wrote reports on the matter also have reservations.
One key question is how much drilling waste is involved. Hughes said one estimate is that as much as 557,000 tons of drilling mud and cuttings have been deposited in landfills in Brooke, Ohio, Wetzel and Wood counties.
Among concerns about depositing drilling waste in landfills are some involving radioactive materials and heavy metals in the material.
Another issue is whether landfills have equipment to detect and measure the presence of such substances.
Scott Mandirola, director of water and waste management for the DEP, told our reporter the agency's proposal is "a pretty straightforward rule revision."
That may be so. And no one should become unduly alarmed about words such as "radioactive." Many materials have small amounts of radioactivity that is not harmful.
Still, Hughes makes a good point. Legislators should ask some of the same questions he and the consultants posed. Before acting on the proposed disposal rules, they should get answers - and be comfortable with them.