By C.V. Moore
OAK HILL —
A new round of water tests near the Underground Injection Control (UIC) well at Lochgelly provide evidence that oil and gas drilling waste could be discharging into the headwaters of Wolf Creek.
The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) has thus far denied the well poses any danger to surface or underground water. But the agency is now investigating the matter, according to WVDEP spokesperson Kathy Cosco.
“We are trying to research where those (samples) were taken and get some more information so that we can determine where they are and whether the source is indeed this well,” she says.
This new information surfaced during a recent public comment period, held as the WVDEP considers a re-permit for the well, which has incited passionate public outcry in Fayette County.
On June 4, approximately 75 people attended a public hearing on the matter, including Sen. Ron Miller, D-Greenbrier, and Sen. William Laird, D-Fayette. About 22 people provided a verbal comment, according to Cosco.
Two people — also employees of Danny E. Webb Construction, which operates the well — spoke in favor of the permit.
The others opposed the permit. Many citizens spoke emotionally; some even shed tears over their concern for water, health, and safety near the well.
Michael Hendryx, a professor at the School of Public Health at West Virginia University who studies the health impacts of the coal industry, sent written comments expressing his concern.
Some chemicals used in the hydrofracking process, or recovered from underground, are known to be harmful if people are exposed to them, he writes. The Environmental Protection Agency has identified 27 of them, but many more have unknown health impacts.
“The possible health effects of all these chemicals are not understood, but we cannot assume that they are safe if their effects have not been investigated,” he writes.
“From a public health perspective, because we don’t know what harm might result from exposure to this complex mixture of chemicals, (some) of which are known to be harmful to human health, it is prudent and appropriate to immediately stop disposing of this wastewater close to places where children and other people live.”
Beth Little of the Sierra Club and Julie Archer of the West Virginia Surface Owners Rights Organization also provided comments during the hearing.
Little is concerned that holding pits at the site are leaking into the nearby creek.
“The pits were not constructed according to engineered specifications,” she said at the hearing. “Seeps from the side of the pits have killed all vegetation indicating toxic ingredients. There is orange staining and the creek below runs bright orange.”
The WVDEP has claimed that elevated iron and manganese in surface water test results are indicative only of acid mine drainage and past mining activity in the area.
“We have not seen parameters such as chlorides and hydrocarbons substantially elevated, which would indicate pit leakage,” Jamie Peterson of the WVDEP told The Register-Herald.
But Plateau Action Network (PAN) and a citizen, Mary Rahall, also recently began conducting water testing near the site. Both of PAN’s samples, collected in the past several months, show values higher than West Virginia surface water quality standards for chloride and other substances consistent with drilling waste.
“Our lab analysis also indicated high concentrations of bromide and glycols, both known to be constituents in hydraulic fracturing fluids,” the organization told the WVDEP in recent correspondence.
Little says the WVDEP’s argument does not hold weight given the new data.
“The claim that this is due to acid mine drainage does not explain the high chloride content, the presence of glycols and benzene in the test results, or the petroleum-like film on top of the creek that does not break up when touched. Even if it were acid mine drainage, this should not be allowed to be discharged into the waters of the state,” she writes.
PAN is recommending that the WVDEP, before it decides on the re-permit, clarify the source of the pollutants, add certain other testing parameters to a long-term monitoring program, and notify the Office of Abandoned Mine Lands of the acid mine drainage issues.
The window for written comment on the well’s re-permit has been extended by the WVDEP to Friday, June 14.
Currently, permit reviewers are going through the comments submitted thus far, as well as notes taken at the public hearing, says Cosco. They will also examine a transcript of the hearing when it is available.
After a review of these materials is complete, the permit reviewers will take the comments into consideration and issue a final decision on the re-permit in “a couple of weeks,” says Cosco.
The re-permit could be approved as currently written; denied; or revised with additional conditions.
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