Landfill Taking Drilling Waste

DEP says protective liners keep materials contained

Wheeling WV  Intelligencer
17 May 2011
By Casey Junkins, Staff Writer, The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING - With permission from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, Chesapeake Energy is dumping waste at the Short Creek Landfill.

"The advantage of taking this waste to the landfills is there are protective liners in landfills and the leachate is collected and tested," said DEP spokeswoman Kathy Cosco. "This is really drilling waste, which includes drill cuttings and the drilling mud that is used in the process."

During a recent federal court hearing in a case in which Wetzel County property owners Larry and Jana Rine are suing Chesapeake for allegedly dumping benzene and radioactive material into a large hole on the Rines' property, Chesapeake attorney Timothy Miller noted Chesapeake has been taking drilling waste to the Short Creek Landfill on North Fork Road.

None of this material seems to be radioactive, however. Testifying on behalf of Chesapeake, environmental consultant Ernest Franz said a set of alarms on the sides of the landfill's entrance would sound if the truck contained radioactive material.

He said no truckloads of Chesapeake waste have been turned away from the landfill for this reason.

"Chesapeake utilizes a closed loop drilling process throughout the Marcellus (Shale). This process separates drill cuttings into steel bins that are taken off site for disposal in approved regional landfills," Chesapeake's Director of Corporate Development Stacey Brodak said when asked for further explanation of the comments from Miller and Franz.

Kosco said the DEP regulates West Virginia's landfills but does not have a specific regulation for the disposal of drilling waste. She said the drill cuttings are classified as "special waste," like gasoline contaminated waste resulting from highway accidents.

"Like when a tractor-trailer overturns and diesel fuel is spilled, the absorbent material used to clean up that spill is considered a special waste and can be taken to landfills that are permitted to accept it," she said.

Cosco said the DEP sent letters to landfills in 2009 to let them know they would need to modify their permits to accept the drilling waste. Testing for certain metals and petroleum hydrocarbons is required under the new regulations.

Dumping the waste in landfills may be a viable alternative for natural gas drillers because West Virginia's public water systems are no longer able to accept drilling waste. According to the DEP, Wheeling-based Liquid Assets Disposal allegedly dumped briny wastewater from gas drilling sites at the Center Wheeling pollution plant from January 2009 to February 2010. During this time, LAD allegedly exceeded the 9,000-pound daily chloride limitation for Wheeling's plant on about 50 occasions. This resulted in the DEP issuing a $414,000 fine against the city.