First of Three Reports for WV Legislature Completed
From an Article by Ken Ward, the Charleston Gazette, March 15, 2013
A legislatively mandated study by West Virginia University has found consistent and potentially significant problems with the way oil and gas companies build drilling waste pits and with how state regulators inspect those impoundments.
WVU engineers reported that field evaluations found insufficient compaction, soil erosion and seepage at sites where gas-drilling companies store wastewater from hydraulic fracturing and gas production activities.
Impoundments inspected as part of the study were found to be larger than permitted, with different widths and steeper slopes than authorized. While none of the problems “indicated imminent pit or impoundment failure potential,” the WVU report warned, “the problems identified do constitute a real hazard and present risk if allowed to progress.
“Overall, these deficiencies reflect a lack of adherence to the best management practices . . . as well as poor construction knowledge,” the 208-page report said. “These construction practices combined with a lack of field quality control and assurances are indicators of the source and frequency of the problems observed across all evaluated sites.”
West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection officials, though, said the sites designed and constructed to current state standards scored higher on WVU’s inspections than those built before new Marcellus Shale drilling regulations were enacted.
In a summary of the WVU report, the WV DEP said it “is able to conclude that the current regulatory framework is sufficient to properly regulate the construction, operation, and maintenance of large capacity pits and impoundments.”
The report was required as part of the new WV Marcellus drilling law and found that none of the DEP inspectors had any formal training related to pit and impoundment inspection. “Infrequent inspections may allow problem areas to go unnoticed or delay corrective action,” the report said.
In summarizing the WVU report for lawmakers, DEP officials said the agency has since provided additional training to inspectors on the proper design, construction and maintenance of pits and impoundments.
“Continuous improvement through training has been, and will continue to be, ongoing at numerous events in order to stay apprised of the new and constantly changing industrial activities associated with horizontal well drilling,” the DEP said. “In addition, the OOG developed a standard inspection checklist to ensure that the inspection of pits and impoundments is standardized across the Divison of Oil and Gas.”
The OOG now has 49 staff positions, up from 32. Agency officials have filled 41 of the 49 positions, and the eight vacancies are evenly split between enforcement and permitting functions, Martin said.
The WVU report itself said, “There was no evidence of significant leakage of flowbacks from the impoundments.
“While the monitoring wells detected no contaminants, it is not clear that the monitoring interval of 146 days was sufficient to capture any leakage from the impoundments,” the WVU report said. “A longer sampling period is suggested with, perhaps, aquifer permeability testing.”
The pits and impoundments report from WVU’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering was initially submitted to the DEP in mid-December.
Two other documents from WVU were provided to the DEP in February, and the DEP released the material publicly last week.
A separate study on noise, light and dust from drilling operations was to be provided to the Legislature by December 31, 2012, but is still not finished. A third study, examining possible air pollution from oil and gas operations, is due July 1st.