CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection admits small oil and gas operators will face a heavy, unintended burden if the Above Ground Storage Act remains in its current form.

SB 373, which took effect in June, requires registrations and inspections of above ground storage tanks in West Virginia.

Randy Huffman said there are about 40,000 oil, gas and agriculture tanks that sit outside of the established zones of critical concern — meaning they are not threats to the water supply. He said he’s not sure how many may ultimately be exempt.

At one point, those smaller tanks were exempt from the law, but that exemption was not part of the final version of the legislation. “These tanks are all over the place. They have secondary containment around them. They’re really not a threat,” Huffman said.

Independent operators have estimated their costs to fully comply with the law could put them out of business.

“Their claims are not exaggerated at all,” Huffman said. “We’ve been working with these guys and we’ve been listening to them and we agree with a lot of what they are talking about.”

The new law was written as a response to the Jan. 9 Freedom Industries chemical spill on the Elk River. More than 10,000 gallons of crude MCHM leaked from an aging tank that was not regularly inspected. The spill contaminated tap water for more than 300,000 people in parts of nine West Virginia counties.

As part of that law, all tanks must be registered with the state by Oct. 1. Operators of tanks that are not registered before the deadline could face a potential fine of $10,000 per tank for each day a tank remains unregistered.

By Jan. 1, those tanks must be inspected and certified by a registered engineer. It would take action from the Legislature to move the Jan. 1 deadline, but Huffman said there are other steps the DEP may be able to take during the ongoing rule-making process.

“We’re trying to look at a way that we can exempt them, because the law allows me to exempt certain folks if they are meeting other regulatory standards which we find to be acceptable,” Huffman said. “We’re working on a process to do that.”

On Thursday’s MetroNews “Talkline,” Huffman said meeting the Jan. 1 deadline will be an issue for all of the storage tanks that fall under the new law — not just the oil and gas tanks — because, he said, the standards for the required inspections and certifications may not be finalized until December.

House Speaker Tim Miley (D-Harrison, 48) has said a Special Session may be needed to address the issues with the bill.