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.

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  • Dumb Liberals

    The m0r0n's Gestapo is in town!

  • any major dude

    It sounds like a workable solution to exempt tanks that are not a potential threat to our water supply, as long as it can be shown that they don't pose this threat.
    I'm not an expert on state Executive powers vs federal Executive powers, but the state Executive branch needs to be very careful about changes to these regulatory laws. If the Governor's powers are similar to the President's, he cannot make changes to an existing law unilaterally; it's an unlawful expansion (per Mr. Boehner) of Executive powers to unilaterally change a law that was duly passed by the legislative branch and signed by the Exec.
    Then again, if Mr.Huffman says the law allows him to exempt certain folks, I assume he knows what he's talking about.

  • Jon

    At least these guys have recognized that there are issues that need to be addressed and need to be addressed in a hurry. If not, the only industry the state has that is growing will be devastated. Governor Tomblin needs to step up and address this just as soon as possible. It is in his hands. The water emergency in Charleston and the surrounding area was disastrous and the legislature had to act to ensure that it does not happen again anywhere. When you are dealing with a part-time legislature this happens on ocassion. Kudos to Miley and Huffman for having the guts to identify the problems and bringing the issue to the forefront before jobs were lost.

  • Roger

    How can you exempt one potentially hazardous company from compliance and not others? Typical legislative action, just jump right in to it and enact laws, and then realize, hey, this is going to cause problems for some....Legislators, please learn to do some research before voting to enact new laws....Just my opinion.