By Pamela Pritt
An emotional Mary Rahall nearly lost her voice as she spoke to the House Committee on the Judiciary Monday evening. In the end, though, her plea came through loud and clear.
“Don’t fail us,” she said. “Protect me. Protect our babies and our kids.”
Rahall has lived in Lochgelly 14 years. She said she and her husband decided to move back to West Virginia because it would be a good place to raise their three children.
Now, though, Rahall questions that decision because she says waste from hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking, is being brought to a sediment pond near her Fayette County home and then injected into a well she believes is near the source of drinking water for area families.
“How do I stay in my community?” she asked.
She was one of nearly 20 speakers who asked the legislative committee to maintain West Virginia’s landfill laws the way they were written about 20 years ago, instead of passing a bill that will allow waste from Marcellus shale well sites to be entombed in public landfills.
Rahall said she was shocked to learn the company that hauls the waste was granted another injection well permit just two weeks ago by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
“I don’t feel like I can trust the West Virginia DEP,” she said.
Greenbrier County’s Glenn Singer, a candidate for the House of Delegates in 2012, said he assumed oil and gas companies are operating at a profit and could thus shoulder the cost of storing the leftover drill cuttings and fracking fluids themselves.
“What problems will the public inherit?” Singer asked. “Should the public pay to find that out?”
He said storing the waste was “part of the cost of doing business.”
Singer said some drill cuttings have been dumped in Greenbrier County’s landfill, which is above the water intake for the country’s 2011 Coolest Small Town. Heavy rains have caused some failure at the landfill and the fluids to leak into the Greenbrier River.
“I’ve consumed this water, just like all the citizens of Lewisburg,” Singer said.
His appeal to the legislature: “We want clean water.”
The Greenbrier County Landfill was fined more than $11,000 for the leakage; however, the DEP did not specify that the “distinctly visible solids in the river” were from a source directly connected to the oil and gas industry.
Other speakers during the evening asked the committee to ensure the water’s safety by making oil and gas drillers store potentially radioactive drill cuttings and fracking fluids in safe landfill cells that they create instead of using up public landfill space, which may not be adequate to store the quantity nor the constitution of the substances.
Charleston attorney Thornton Cooper said he’d worked on the original legislation for landfills in the 1990s. Now, he said, this bill “guts” those laws because it bypasses local control of landfills.
“I’m amazed it’s even being sponsored,” Cooper said. “It’s a wrecking ball that would undo a major amount of work.”
Several speakers drew a comparison to the recent chemical spill that deprived Elk River watershed residents of using their tap water for more than a week. Some people in the area are still not drinking the water they pay for every month.
Charlie Burd, executive director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association, alone spoke in favor of the bill. He said the industry had created 7,000 new jobs in the state.
“IOGA’s members have an interest in the availability of environmentally protective disposal options for drill cuttings and associated waste,” Burd said.
He said the bill offers companies those options because the state’s landfill laws are among the strongest in the country.
“Disposal of these materials in commercial landfills will assure that these materials are handled in a highly regulated and environmentally positive manner,” Burd said.
The bill was not on Tuesday’s Judiciary Committee agenda.