CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Department of Environmental Protection is pushing lawmakers to enact a bill which codifies a presently standing order from the DEP on the disposal of drill cuttings.
Traditionally, the material removed when gas companies drilled traditional gas wells were buried on the site of the landowner. However, the new horizontal drilling operations produce larger volumes of material and legislation passed last year requires them to be hauled off site to an approved landfill.
“The bill said these cuttings had to be disposed of in a landfill and we didn’t go any further with provisions about how that might happen,” said state DEP Secretary Randy Huffman.
Huffman said under the present language of the law, landfills could mix the cuttings with regular garbage. He issued an emergency order which required the cuttings to be separated from regular trash into a separate cell of the landfill. The law does require liners and lechate monitoring at landfill sites where they are disposed. Huffman wants his order to be made into law.
“Given the public concern over this, let’s go to the legislature and have the debate,” he said. “That’s what we’re doing.”
Huffman said the greatest concern with the cuttings from wells in the Marcellus Shale wells is naturally occurring radio activity. The material is brought to the surface from so far into the ground it can produce radioactive waste. Despite the concern, Huffman thinks the landfill provisions will negate any potential problems, but they want to keep an eye on things.
“We think that’s something we need to continue to monitor,” he said. “Right now we don’t think there’s a reason to be concerned, but given there are more questions than answers, we’re going to continue to look at that.”