"Until recently it was actually common practice for the drillers to store their waste in open pits in the ground and to bury their drill cuttings on site on the surface owners' land," Archer said.
That changed in 2011 when Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's "Horizontal Drilling Act" was passed during a special session. The law said solid wastes from drilling had to be sent to permitted landfills or could be disposed of at drilling sites if the surface landowner consented.
The concern for Archer, she said, is that municipal landfills are not designed to hold "hazardous materials." While a state-sponsored study was meant to address potential pollution from natural gas drilling, it never addressed waste from the Marcellus Shale formation, as reported by the Gazette last month.
"It's well known that the Marcellus is radioactive," Archer said. "Now, how radioactive, unfortunately we just don't know because the state has insufficient data to fully understand the levels of warmth that are released from the Marcellus in the process of drilling and fracking."
Residents in places that already receive fracking waste also expressed concern and disapproval of the bill. Fayetteville resident Mary Rahall referenced a renewed injection well permit that allows a pit near Wolf Creek to hold fracking fluids. Rahall said she worries about potentially negative health effects of such wells on West Virginians.
"I don't feel like I can't trust the West Virginia DEP anymore, and I'm relying on our government to protect the water and protect the people," Rahall said. "Honestly, I never in my lifetime imagined that I would be at a hearing asking my legislators to protect me."
Dr. Vicki Wolfe, of the West Virginia Environmental Council, said those "existing landfill caps should be maintained," and that separate facilities should be constructed to hold drilling material at the expense of those companies, not the public.
The Rev. Jeff Allen, executive director of the West Virginia Council of Churches, said the bill "potentially externalizes the cost of fracking from a private entity to the public purse."
The bill is pending in the House Judiciary Committee after passing the House Energy Committee.
Ken Ward Jr. contributed to this report.
Reach Rachel Molenda at rachel.mole...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.