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Changes to Storage Tank Law Would Exempt Some

CHARLESTON – A change proposed to the law regulating aboveground storage tanks would exempt certain tanks used by the oil and natural gas industry if approved by the West Virginia Legislature.

The House Energy and Manufacturing Committee took up House Bill 2598 on Tuesday, which would exempt aboveground storage tanks holding 210 barrels or less, about 8,820 gallons, and used for brine water or other fluids produced for use by the oil and natural gas industry from the Aboveground Storage Tank Act.

The bill introduced by committee Vice Chairman John Kelly, R-Wood, would specifically exempt these kinds of aboveground storage tanks from inspection under the AST Act located in zones of critical concern.

These zones protect public surface water supplies, groundwater supply sources, and streams in watersheds.

According to the state Department of Environmental Protection, approximate 887 aboveground storage tanks located in 19 zones of critical concern in 27 counties would be exempt from the AST Act if HB 2598 is passed by the House and state Senate.

Delegate Mark Zatezalo, R-Hancock, is a member of the House Energy and Manufacturing Committee and a retired geologist. He said the kinds of aboveground storage tanks being exempted by HB 2598 are already closely monitored by oil and natural gas companies, as well as regulated by other agencies with DEP.

“It’s to provide common sense to the process in my opinion,” Zatezalo said.

“Those tanks are used to collect oil and they’re used to get the brine and keep the brine from going into the environment. They monitor them weekly as a matter of business.”

Delegate Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, is also a fellow committee member and owner of environmental and economic development consulting firm Downstream Strategies.

Hansen believes that the bill could put fewer eyeballs on risky aboveground storage tanks and lead to drinking water contamination.

“I’m concerned that it puts our drinking water at risk,” Hansen said.

“We have a system that has been working, and this is going to exempt almost 1,000 aboveground storage tanks from regulation and put our drinking water at risk.”

The brine used in the oil and natural gas industry is not strictly salt water.

Dorothy Vesper, a professor of geology at West Virginia University, testified Tuesday that these brine tanks include oil, proprietary chemicals, and even radioactive elements.

The AST Act was passed in 2014 after a leak of coal-cleaning chemical MCHM from a faulty storage tank owned by Freedom Industries in Charleston in 2013 shut down the water supply when that chemical went into the Elk River just north of a West Virginia American Water intake serving nine counties in southern West Virginia.

Ruth Porter, with the DEP’s Aboveground Storage Tank Act enforcement program, told committee members Tuesday that past violations were significant the last couple of years, though the violations are decreasing as companies come into compliance. Instances of severe discharges have been minimal with no discernible effect on drinking water and waterways.

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