CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Of 20 speakers at a House hearing Monday, only one -- an industry representative -- spoke in favor of a bill that would exempt natural gas drilling waste in the Marcellus Shale region from the state's landfill tonnage limits.
Charlie Burd, executive director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia, said the bill -- supported by the state Department of Environmental Protection -- "recognizes the reasonable approach" of disposing such material.
"West Virginia's commercial landfill regulations are among the strongest and most comprehensive in the country," Burd said. "Disposal of these materials in commercial landfills will assure that these materials are handled in a highly regulated and environmentally positive manner."
But in some instances, this exemption would surpass existing monthly landfill waste limits set by solid waste authorities.
Six landfills in Brooke, Harrison, Ohio, Wetzel and Wood counties hold the gas-drilling material, which accounts for about one-third of the material accepted at each, according to DEP data from July 2012 to July 2013.
Thornton Cooper, a South Charleston attorney once employed by the state's Public Service Commission to defend its solid waste laws in federal court, called the proposed bill "a wrecking ball that would undo an amazing amount of work that the Legislature did in the 80's and 90's."
Cooper said both private and public landfills are underused and that "There is plenty of space in our landfills right now to let Marcellus Shale store the drilling contents," throughout the state, not only in places like Wetzel County that have exceeded their limits.
Solid waste authorities are worried the bill (HB4411) would limit their ability to monitor and control these waste restrictions.
Bill Hughes, of the Wetzel County Solid Waste Authority, told members of the House Judiciary Committee and DEP Secretary Randy Huffman Monday night that a "three-legged stool" was created more than 20 years ago requiring the DEP, the state's Public Service Commission and local solid waste authorities "to work together in deciding sizing and environmental restrictions" of landfills.
"Unfortunately the recent memos from the DEP undid over 20 years of standing law and has now allowed our landfill in Wetzel County to exceed its legal limit by anywhere from 200 and 300 percent," Hughes said. "The legal limit is 10,000. It's been taking up to 40,000 tons a month."
From a surface owner perspective, housing such waste in a landfill is better than the alternative, said Julie Archer of the West Virginia Surface Owners' Rights Organization.