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West Virginia lawmakers weigh tank registration repeal

Posted March 13

— West Virginia lawmakers are weighing whether to stop requiring state registration of about 29,000 storage tanks that can hold up to 210 barrels of brine water and crude oil produced in drilling for oil and natural gas.

At a House hearing on Monday, a dozen environmentalists and other advocates said the regulation costs only $20 to $40 in one-time fees. It also requires companies to publicly post labels on the tanks with company identification and contacts and the state's emergency toll-free phone line for reporting a leak or spill. Drilling wastewater contains drinking-water pollutants such as benzene, bromides and heavy metals and the leaks could also taint wells, they said.

"Clean Water is an asset. Pollution is a liability. Even perception of pollution is a liability," said David Manthos of the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition. He and his wife felt sickened standing downwind of the open hatches of storage tanks on drilling well pads in Wetzel County. Evidence shows there's more in the storage tanks than salt, water and oil, he said.

A dozen oil and gas producers and their trade associations advocating the change said the tanks contain organic materials and don't threaten drinking water systems. They said they already comply with other similar regulations that require filings and safety precautions for the tanks, they said.

In 2014, a spill from a chemical tank shut down the Charleston area's water supply for nine days.

Scott Freshwater, president of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia, said small family businesses are burdened by the most cumbersome regulations in the industry and have 150 years' history of not harming public water systems.

"By way of comparison, Pennsylvania specifically exempts the tanks that are being discussed, contemplated in this bill," said Freshwater, president of an oil and gas company that employs nearly 100 people.

In a letter read to the House Judiciary Committee, Timothy Ball, general manager of the Morgantown Utility Board, said most of the tanks at issue are subject only to registration, not regulation, and it would be a mistake to exempt those many tanks and some others nearer to water intakes from registration under the proposed amendment.

"My utility and the other water suppliers around our state rely on inventories of registered tanks ... in order to protect our source water," wrote Ball, who manages the state's largest publicly owned drinking water system. "We rely upon the registrations in question to help us assess and prepare for the many threats to water quality throughout our watersheds."

At a later Judiciary Committee meeting, officials from the state Department of Environmental Protection told lawmakers there had been 11 spills or other releases from above-ground storage tanks recorded from last August through mid-January, including eight related to oil and gas tanks. Three reached streams, two within the zone closest to intakes that would remain covered under the legislation. That's "zone of critical concern" based on a mathematical model indicating a spill would reach a water system intake within five hours.

Companies would still have to post identifying information at their drilling well pads, regulators said. They remain required to report tank leaks or spills.

The committee later advanced for full House consideration a bill that would continue registration and labels but limit other regulation of smaller tanks.

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