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Groups oppose state disposal well permit renewal

By The Associated Press

LOCHGELLY, W.Va. -- Environmental and property owner groups are opposing the renewal of a state permit for an underground injection well in Fayette County that's used to dispose of waste from oil and gas operations.

The Natural Resources Defense Council and the West Virginia Surface Owners' Rights Organization say the site has a history of violations and noncompliance, and they question the Department of Environmental Protection's ability to regulate such wells.

The Register-Herald reports the groups voiced their concerns in a letter to the DEP. Citizens' complaints include heavy truck traffic, odors and fear of water pollution.

Jamie Peterson, who oversees Class II injection wells for the DEP, said the agency has made progress in the permitting, testing and monitoring of injection wells, and past violations at the Lochgelly site have been addressed.

Streams are also monitored now to ensure that a settling pit onsite doesn't pollute a tributary of Wolf Creek, Peterson said.

The well was originally permitted in 2002 and is now going through the renewal process.

"Everything I do is legal. I stay within the law and if something goes wrong, we correct it immediately,'' said owner-operator Danny Webb.

"In 30 years, I may have had three violations and they were abated immediately,'' he said. "We've never had a spill. We've never been cited for contamination.''

Citizens raised concerns as early as 2004, when a foul odor came from the site. The DEP later concluded that a load of fluid with high sulfur content had been improperly dumped into an open pit rather than pumped into a tank. Webb was issued several orders, including one that prohibited him from taking fluids from the offending company.

In 2007, the DEP imposed new requirements for security and worker training, and ordered the use of the pit be discontinued.

In 2008, Danny Webb Construction was cited for two violations at separate wells at the same site, one of which had not been permitted.

Webb said a worker who was pumping and performing a test on the well mistakenly thought the permit had been issued.

"It was really just a misunderstanding,'' he said. The well was permitted several months later.

The second violation was for failing to fill in the open pit, a decision Webb challenged. The DEP eventually reversed its position and allowed Webb to continue using the pit.

The latest violation occurred in September 2010, when a DEP inspector observed oil in the pit. Webb said it was a small amount and quickly removed.


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