Citizens voice opinions for storage tank law rollback

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bill that would add to the list of storage tanks exempt from requirements under the Aboveground Storage Tank Law has the attention of those in the oil and gas industry.

Citizens spoke for and against HB 2811 during a public hearing Monday morning in the state House of Delegates Chamber.

The legislation would weaken the protections of the Aboveground Storage Tank Act, which was signed into law following the
2014 Freedom Industries chemical spill. That leak contaminated drinking water for more than 300,000 residents in parts of nine West Virginia counties.

The bill would exclude 69 percent the 42,000 oil and gas industry tanks that must be registered with the state Department of Environmental Protection under law.

“That’s 29,000 tanks that would be off the grid, off the map and essentially invisible for the public to know about,” John Street with the West Virginia Environmental Council said in opposition of the bill.

Supporters of the bill say this would remove the DEP from the burden of regulating tanks that are not located anywhere near public water intakes.

“Most of them are at least 10-12 miles away and the large majority of them are 25 miles away from a public water intake, so they are no where near these water sources,” said Doug Malcolm, vice president of DC Malcolm Ink in Charleston.

The new exemption would apply to tanks with a capacity of 210 barrels or about 8,820 gallons. Malcolm said the size of these tanks are smaller than Freedom tanks.

“They’re less than 10,000 gallons. A lot of them are a lot small than that and usually they’re less than half full,” he said. “These are not the same tanks that you see pictured when people are comparing them to the Freedom Industries tanks that contained over 4 million gallons.”

Tanks containing “brine or water or other fluids produced in connection with hydrocarbon production activities” will be exempted if those tanks are not located in a “zone of critical concern,” according to the bill.

Julie Archer with West Virginia Surface Owners Rights said those fluid contents need to be looked at further.

“Before these tanks are exempted further analysis of the brine and produced water contents should be conducted to evaluate the concentration of potential contaminants and the impact on drinking water,” Archer said.

But the tanks don’t contain chemicals, Doug Douglas said. He works for a family-owned oil and gas company in Roane County.

“The tanks we’re talking about here don’t pose the same risks as what Freedom Industries did. The size of that tank was multiple thousands of gallons compared to typical oil tanks of 4,200 gallons,” Douglas said.

“If a chemical leaks into the stream or river, as we all know, it’s likely immersed in the water and can cause problems. Oil floats on top. It can be skimmed off and be contained much more easily than chemical leaks,” he explained.

After the Freedom spill, the ASTA law was approved unanimously. A year later, lawmakers rolled back the number and types of tanks under the law.

According to the legislation, an “aboveground storage tank” must have the capacity of at least 1,320 gallons. Tank owners are required, by law, to register with the DEP and pay a registration fee. That current fee is $20. Operators must also place signs that list their registration number and emergency contact information.

David Manthus with the West Virginia Environmental Council said the industry should be required to continue to register their tanks.

“Is it really such a burden for industry to pay a $20 registration fee, to post a sing or two and maybe pay an annual operating fee so that people that live down stream, that live near these sites can find out who to call in the event of an incident,” Manthus asked those in the House Chamber.

If the bill is passed, Manthus said it would be like history repeating itself.

“If our elected officials have such a short memory that they would gut the AST Act, again, what reason do millennials have to stay? Why should we start a family or start a business that does not seem to learn from its past?” he said.

The bill now goes before the House Judiciary Committee.

The 2017 Regular Legislative Session closes on Saturday, April 8.

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