Environmental Quality Board Hears Complaints Against DEP Revocation Order in Fayette County

Jun 18, 2014

“These open pits were discovered by the DEP in 2004,” Rist said. “They were not part of any permit that had been issued. The DEP has done nothing about it. Until about two months ago, after this appeal was filed. Low and behold, all of sudden Danny Webb cleans up those pits.”
Credit Jessica Lilly / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The West Virginia Environmental Quality Board is reviewing an order issued by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection that revokes a waste disposal permit. Attorney Tom Rist is representing groups concerned about Danny Webb Construction's waste disposal operation in Fayette County.


Background:

Attorney Tom Rist filed the appeal a couple months ago on behalf of Bradley Keenen, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the West Virginia Surface Owners Rights Organization, and the Plateau Action Network. The groups have a number of concerns with the revocation order of a permit issued by the state Department of Environmental Protection. The operation permit was revoked in March, but the order still allowed the operator Danny Webb Construction to continue to work at the site.

The site of concern is located between Oak Hill and Fayetteville in Fayette County and has been worrying residents for years. It’s located off of a tributary of the New River called Wolf Creek. Some residents are concerned about drinking water contamination while others worry about rafters and tourists who spend time in the waters.

More than 1.5 million barrels (50 million gallons) of waste fluids have already been injected into the Class II Underground Injection Well which is permitted to accept waste fluid from oil and gas industry.

Commercial brine operators such as Danny Webb are required to maintain a manifesting system, which is a log of where wastes originate, according to the DEP. There are also monitoring requirements specified in permits. But Rist and the groups he represents are skeptical about how effective these measures are at protecting public interests.

For years open pits were used at the Danny Webb operation to store waste products before they were injected. Citizen concerns of smells and apparent leaching have surfaced. The DEP’s own water quality tests were presented as evidence in the hearing.

Water quality tests conducted over the past several years, while inconclusive, do seem to indicate increased pollutants introduced somewhere in the immediate vicinity of the aforementioned pits. But experts have indicated that the tests are really inadequate to determine anything other than the fact that the pollutants on the given days did exist, and that they represent minimal exposure risks.

Hearing:

Of the nine issues listed in the appeal, only three will be considered in the final ruling:

  • The issuance of the DEP’s order which revoked the operation’s permit violates public policy of the state of West Virginia to maintain reasonable standards of security in the quality of water according to the WV Water Quality Control Act and the Groundwater Protection Act.
  • The revocation of the operation permit allowed the operation to continue.
  • The proposed well constitutes a hazard to the safety of people, that potential damages would impair a publicly owned resource, and so the measures taken by the DEP fail to protect the fresh water source or supplies in this state.

The ruling from the Environmental Quality Board is expected in the next three months.

*Editor's Note: West Virginia Public Radio reached out to the DEP for comment on this story, and while they did offer background information, but they do not wish to comment on the hearing until the ruling is finalized.