More Regulations Needed

Regulations enforceable by law are either directly entered in the West Virginia Code through legislation passed by the Legislature or through Rules drawn up by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and approved by the Legislature. Either way, our state Senators and Delegates are the source of laws to protect our water, air and health. Clean water is West Virginia’s most precious natural resource.

Our legislators are heavily lobbied by industry (the gas industry currently employs 22 lobbyists, not counting coal and chemical companies which have similar interests), so it takes a massive effort from the general public to make it clear that our lawmakers need to listen to us. We don’t have the money to hire an army of high paid lobbyists; we just have our votes.

Water Withdrawals: Currently there is nothing stopping a company from draining our streams dry, and it is happening. The current voluntary program would not be effective even if followed. The gauges showing stream flow are too far downstream to provide guidance about headwater streams, and nothing tells a driller how many other drillers are also withdrawing. We need a mandatory permit process for industrial water withdrawals in small streams and headwaters. Draining our streams, particularly during traditionally dry seasons, is bad for citizens, tourism, recreation, fishing, aquatic life and the overall health of our waterways.

Water Quality Standards: West Virginia has no standard for “Total Dissolved Solids” (TDS), which are mineral salts. They make the water taste bad and cause both home and industrial equipment to collect deposits and malfunction. High TDS were implicated in the Dunkard Creek golden algae bloom that killed everything – fish and mussels – for 30 miles. DEP is proposing a statewide water quality standard for TDS of 500mg/l measured in-stream. This is stronger than Pennsylvania’s standard of 500mg/l which is measured only at public water supply in-takes. However, it is twice as high as the 250mg/l that EPA recommends as the Human Health Standard for total dissolved solids. DEP should adopt the federal standard for human health of 250mg/l. In addition, DEP fails to propose in this rule an aquatic life standard for conductivity, with which TDS levels are closely associated. DEP should adopt an aquatic life criterion for TDS and conductivity as proposed by EPA.

Drilling Wastes: There are three kinds of wastewater from drilling, plus the solids (mud and cuttings from the earth and rock) – drilling brine, fracking fluids (used under high pressure to crack open the shale) which are exempt from regulation by the EPA under the Clean Water Act, and produced water which is largely fracking fluids at first and continues during gas production. The problems with TDS are discussed above. Other contaminants are toxins from the earth, such as NORMs (naturally occurring radioactive materials) and chemicals in the fracking fluids, such as benzene, toluene and barium, which cause cancer, birth defects, and other health problems. Fracking fluids can be treated and reused to minimize water withdrawals, but eventually all these forms of wastewater, and the solids that settle out, must be disposed of. Current legal practices of spraying on the land and burying pits on site are a danger to our streams and groundwater. We need regulations that require a closed loop (tank to well to tank) for fracking fluids and removal of all wastewater and solid residue, including pit liners, to authorized hazardous waste facilities.

Accidents: There are inevitable spills, leaks and explosions. We need all gas wells to have an emergency plan that includes immediate notification of emergency services, the health department, downstream water supply facilities and residents, besides the oil and gas inspectors. We also need public disclosure prior to drilling, not after the accident, of all chemicals to be used, so that medical and other emergency first responders know how to treat the injured and handle the cleanup.

Finally, the DEP needs a hiring process free of conflicts of interest and the funding to hire more inspectors.

See our legislative agenda for a list of needed regulations.