WV Legislature gets Report on Disposal of Marcellus Shale Drill Cuttings

by Duane Nichols on October 21, 2015

Black Marcellus shale drill cuttings

Drill Cuttings Report Presented to Legislators

From an Article by David Beard, Morgantown Dominion Post, October 19, 2015

Charleston, WV — State legislators got their first glimpse on Sunday of a WV Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) report on natural gas drilling waste deposited in landfills.

While finding no concerns about chemicals leaching from the waste — also called cuttings — through landfill liners into groundwater, the study suggested that certain cuttings would be better left at the drilling site than hauled to landfills.

The report was ordered in 2015, and completed and delivered to the Legislature in July, but the Joint Legislative Oversight Commission on Water Resources just cracked it open on Sunday. DEP Ombudsman Terry Polen presented the overview.

Only four landfills in the state accept drill cuttings, Polen said: In New Martinsville, Wheeling, Bridgeport and Parkersburg.

As reported by the Associated Press in July, the study said it’s unlikely that significant amounts of untreated natural gas drilling waste in landfills will affect groundwater or surface water. In the event that the waste’s runoff did hit nearby water untreated, the material would likely exceed chemical limits for drinking water and be toxic to plants and invertebrate life, the study concludes.

The report said most groundwater near the studied landfills isn’t used for public water supplies, but is likely used for some private water supplies.

Polen reviewed some other conclusions and recommendations on Sunday:

>> Drillers use two different processes for different segments of the drilling, Polen said. The upper portions of the vertical bores are drilled with air and have significantly lower levels of chloride and radioactive materials. Depositing these cuttings on the drilling site could save time, expenses and landfill space without posing significant hazards. <<

>> The study also recommended exploring other beneficial uses for the cuttings, but ruled out using them to build roads because the solid chunks break up when wet. The study suggested that the state consider using drill cuttings of any type for mine grouting and flowable fill, since that would absorb large amounts of cuttings. The possibility of leachate entering the subsurface would need to be monitored, because of high chloride levels. <<

The New Martinsville landfill is the only one that treats leachate on site. The study recommended monitoring the effluent from the leachate for compounds not now included in its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit. Periodic groundwater monitoring at all the landfills should be considered.

In looking at the economic feasibility of requiring industry to provide its own landfills, Polen noted that drill cuttings are now transported an average of 22.3 miles. If the state required industry landfills, at least two would be needed to avoid increasing transport distance. They would take five years to site and build, and cost $40 million apiece.

They would cost another $12 million a year to operate and $40 million more to close when full, with 30 years of post-closure monitoring. The study observed, “The difficulties inherent when siting a new landfill have not been evaluated as part of this study, but factors including community resistance or receptiveness to the siting of a new facility are not known.”

Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, observed that landfill liners can break, and pollution can enter groundwater. “Doesn’t it make sense to have separate fills,” he asked, with double or triple liners? ….. “That is certainly an angle to look at,” Polen answered.

Delegate Mark Zatezalo, R-Hancock, disagreed, noting that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t consider cuttings as hazardous.

Asked after the meeting what’s next, committee co-chair Sen. Greg Boso, R-Nicholas, said members need time to review and digest the report. The summary is 195 pages, the full report tops 2,000.

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Radioactive Drill Cuttings and WV Landfills

Article from Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Quarterly Newsletter, Fall 2015

At the end of June, WV DEP released a report prepared for the agency by researchers at Marshall and Glenville State universities titled: Examination of Leachate, Drill Cuttings and Related Environmental, Economic and Technical Aspects Associated with Solid Waste Facilities in West Virginia

The report is 195 pages long, with more than 2300 pages of supporting data and graphs. Fortunately, Bill Hughes, chairman of the Wetzel County Solid Waste Authority has provided some analysis of certain aspects of the report, which you can read below. Hughes notes that it would be useful to have independent analyses from scientists, such as those with specialties in biology and chemistry.

In his commentary of the report, Hughes writes, “Wetzel County has had active Marcellus black shale exploration and drilling for at least eight years now. And finally we now have a public report that clearly, unambiguously states that Marcellus shale is radioactive. Of course, geologists have known that for many decades. But, also for decades, there has been great reluctance by the natural gas exploration and production companies to acknowledge that fact in public.”

>>> Read Hughes’ full commentary:

Download (WJH-Comments-Rev-E-WJH-on-Marshall-landfill-report.pdf, 160KB)

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