CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Members of Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s Administration continued work Wednesday to identify possible administrative fixes for problems found within the Above Ground Storage Act.
That water protection law, among many things, requires registrations and certified inspections of storage tanks like the Freedom Industries tank that leaked along the Elk River in Kanawha County in January and put more than 10,000 gallons of a coal processing chemical into the water source for some 300,000 West Virginians.
Earlier this week, MetroNews reported Gov. Tomblin was preparing to call a Special Session for next month so lawmakers could change the timetable for the implementation of the bill, but backed off of those plans — at least temporarily — after hearing from environmental groups.
As of now, as many as 40,000 tanks in West Virginia must be registered with the state by Oct. 1 and certified inspections of those tanks have to be completed by Jan. 1. The state Department of Environmental Protection has not yet finalized the inspection protocols and, DEP officials have said, it could be December before those guidelines are available.
Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, said delaying the established deadline is not be the only option. “If the sticking point is just this certification, Jan. 1 deadline and not having the standards out in time, could we expedite getting those standards out now?”
Smaller oil and gas operators have been pushing for exemptions from the inspection requirements citing the practicality and costs of compliance when, in some cases, their tanks contain only water or brine, not dangerous chemicals and do not threaten the water supply.
Industry representatives have complained they can’t meet the Jan. 1 deadline because there are not enough inspectors to look at all of the tanks in time.
“I think that there is another solution out there that could address some of the concerns of the small oil and gas operators and tank owners as well as give us confidence that this state is on top of this and that they take deadlines seriously,” Rosser said on Wednesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
SB 373, the Above Ground Storage Act, was written and passed as a response to the Freedom Industries chemical spill where the tank that leaked was not required, by law, to undergo regular inspections. When the spill was first discovered, DEP officials did not immediately know what exactly was stored there.
“We know that public confidence was profoundly shaken on Jan. 9. People were just amazed that there was this big of a loophole in the law,” Rosser said.
Tomblin has said a Special Session is still an option. If such a Special Session is called, it will most likely be held during September interims which are scheduled from Sept. 8-10.