Study Causes DEP to Train Inspectors
Gas well technology is changing rapidly
Morgantown Dominion Post
21 July 2013
By David Beard
One of the three legislatively mandated Department of
Environmental Protection (DEP) gas well reports generated little
fanfare when it was released.
It was a WVU study of centralized large pits and impoundments at
gas well pads. The study, released in March, found a number of
compliance and construction problems at existing pits built before
the 2011 Natural Gas Horizontal Well Control Act, which led to
corrective actions at the sites and in DEP Office of Oil and Gas
(OOG) procedures, such as training well inspectors.
Overall, the report said, “OOG is able to conclude that the
current regulatory framework is sufficient to properly regulate
the construction, operation and maintenance of large-capacity pits
and impoundments. … The OOG concurs with WVU that ‘future
construction, if done in accordance with the WVDEP guidelines,
should pose minimal risk.’ ”
Based on the water and impoundment studies, WVU offered a number
of recommendations. DEP told The Dominion Post, “Most of WVU’s
recommendations were already being done by OOG via statute and
guidelines. Since then, new Rule 35 CSR 8 also picks up many of
the items in their recommendations.
As a result of the study, DEP took a number of corrective actions.
It revisited the study sites to observe and address specific
OOG initiated in-house training for field and office workers, and
developed a standardized inspection checklist. Training will be
provided to keep up with changing technology and expanding
The WVU West Virginia Water Research Institute conducted the
study for the DEP. It looked at water and waste stream handling,
and at pits and impoundments.
The study didn’t address the “potential for human exposure via
fluid movement from the fracturing zone upwards toward drinking
The water and waste portion of the study observed that flowback
water (water that retur ns through the wellhead to the surface
after fracking) exceeded drinking water standards for barium,
chloride, iron manganese, total dissolved solids (TDS) and radium
Much of the flowback also exceeded standards for other toxins. Six
parameters were exceeded in the fracking fluid itself, but the
results suggest that many of the toxins are brought back up from
the Marcellus formation.
For the pits and impoundments portion, WVU studied 15 sites.
Researchers found several recurring problems: Insufficient soil
compaction, surface soil erosion, slope movement, buried woody
debris (weakening the pit wall), seepage and wet zones, liner
deficiencies and unsupported pipes (potential breakage and
WVU also submitted questionnaires to OOG inspectors and to company
site representatives. It found that inspectors had no formal
training in pits and impoundments, and no standardized inspection
method. Inspection frequency varied widely.
In an attachment to the report, OOG’s Dave Belcher, assistant
chief for enforcement, observed that pits and impoundments didn’t
start proliferating until 2007. “Presently, 160 large impoundments
and pits are on file and registered; few are closed and reclaimed,
yet new applications are routinely submitted.”
New inspectors are getting hired, he said, which will help spur
more regular site visits. “The OOG recognizes a continuous need
for in-house training programs provided for its field staff.
Workshops for industry must continue.”