In the wake of the Freedom Industries spill of 10,000 gallons of toxic chemicals into the Elk River and the Patriot Coal spill of 100,000 gallons of coal slurry into Fields Creek, West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin and his Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Randy Huffman, are actively pushing legislation that would allow fracking companies to dump their radioactive drilling wastes into solid waste landfills around the state.
That might or might not have anything to do with the thousands of dollars Tomblin took in campaign contributions from the natural gas industry during his 2012 campaign for Governor.
The legislation, HB 4411, which would allow the disposal of drill cuttings and associated drilling waste generated from well sites in commercial solid waste facilities, passed the House Energy Committee yesterday. And the Energy Committee is seeking to bypass the House Judiciary Committee and move the bill straight to the House floor.
In July 2013, Huffman, without consulting solid waste authorities throughout the state, sent a memo to landfill owners and operators laying out how they could blow by their monthly tonnage limits to accommodate the fracking wastes.
A number of county solid waste authorities did not take Huffman’s memo laying down.
The Berkeley County Solid Waste Authority responded with a resolution calling for legislation that would prohibit the fracking wastes in the eastern panhandle counties of Jefferson, Berkeley and Morgan Counties and calling for legislation that would effectively overturn Huffman’s July 2013 memo.
The Wetzel County Solid Waste Authority went one step further and brought a landfill operator – the Lackawanna Transport Company dba the Wetzel County Landfill — before the West Virginia Public Service Commission for violating its monthly tonnage limits.
The county charged that the operator consistently allowed the Wetzel County Landfill “to unlawfully accept far more than 9,999 tons of solid waste per month, including more than 40,000 tons during October of 2013.”
The county called on the Public Service Commission to issue a cease and desist order against the company.
Tomblin and Huffman are now going before the state legislature trying put into law what they tried to do with Huffman’s July 2013 memo. They want to force — through HB 4411 — counties to accept fracking wastes.
Wetzel County County Solid Waste authority member Bill Hughes is concerned about the radioactivity of fracking wastes.
“When you are drilling down, your gamma log, gamma radiation detector starts spiking,” Hughes said at a Wetzel County Commission meeting in September 2013. “That’s how they know they are in the Marcellus. They want to stay in the real rich black stuff. That’s where the money is, the gas is. When you bring this up to the surface, the radiation doesn’t stay down there. All the fluids, all the solids, bring it up.”
Hughes said that while Pennsylvania requires radiation monitors, West Virginia does not.
“My concern is the landfill workers,” Hughes said. “They are there daily at the site, working at the landfill, unloading these trucks. I don’t know in what proximity they are to the drill mud. These are all unknowns. My point is we don’t even know.”