Marcellus Drill Cuttings "Another Maybe Dangerous Water Issue"

Public News Service-WV
30 January 2014
By Dan Heyman,

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - While lawmakers deal with above-ground storage tanks, another huge potential source of water contamination is quietly building: drill cuttings from Marcellus wells. Officials in the gas counties say enormous amounts of Marcellus drill cuttings and other waste are threatening to overwhelm their landfills and could endanger water supplies.

Bill Hughes, chairman of Wetzel County Solid Waste Authority, says their landfill is getting four times the normally allowed limit of material. What's worse, he says, the cuttings include unknown amounts of radioactive and heavy-metal minerals that could poison the water.

"Landfill liners leak. They all leak. The heavy metals are a serious concern, and there is some in the leachate," Hughes warns. "I don't know if there's an exposure problem."

Normally the Wetzel County landfill is allowed to take 10,000 tons of material a month. But state law says solid Marcellus waste is to be put into landfills. The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has interpreted that to mean the Wetzel dump has to take all of the drill waste brought to it. Hughes says that has been up to 40,000 tons a month.

"There's an impact on the local communities - be it traffic, noise, damaged roads. That's a massive amount of material, using up my grandkids' landfill space," he says.

According to Hughes, the landfill had been taking in 60,000 to 70,000 tons of solid waste a year. But he says last year it took in the normal amount, plus 250,000 tons of drill cuttings.

The DEP says there has been no proof that the material is toxic or is leaching into surface and ground water. Hughes says the agency is just choosing to ignore the issue. He says they don't seem willing to deal with whether the cuttings could be dangerous to drinking water, or the likelihood that the sheer volume of stuff will overwhelm the landfills.

"There is no upper limit, so we don't know where it's gonna stop at. It seems like the whole process caught the state completely unprepared, unaware, and they were and probably still are playing catch-up," he says.

Hughes and others are pressing the legislature to deal with the problem.

Click here to view this story on the Public News Service RSS site and access an audio version of this and other stories: