CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A state-sponsored study meant to examine potential pollution from the boom in natural gas drilling never actually tested key wastes from the Marcellus Shale formation, according to a West Virginia University researcher who led the effort.
Teams performing the legislatively mandated review examined only materials from the vertical portion of wells, not from the horizontal drilling at those same sites, which would have included Marcellus Shale mud and drill cuttings.
The omission is important because researchers believe material from the Marcellus Shale is generally more radioactive, and citizen groups are expressing growing concern about the risks of handling and disposal of radioactive drilling wastes.
And, the report's major weakness is being highlighted just as the Legislature returns to Charleston for its 2014 session, after hearing throughout the year about studies finding flaws in Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's drilling bill that passed in 2011.
Researchers noted the lack of Marcellus data in a 141-page report last February, and the state Department of Environmental Protection mentioned it in a summary prepared for lawmakers by agency officials.
But the issue had not received much public attention until a legislative briefing during an interim committee meeting held late Sunday afternoon.
"We can't dismiss the potential risks," Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of WVU's Water Research Institute, which coordinated the study, told lawmakers. "We just haven't characterized it."