Environment
11:41 am
Wed January 8, 2014

Frackwater Pit at Risk of Leaking

A waste pit in Fayette County does not meet the minimum pit and impoundment standards. The pit is filled with fracking water and other waste from oil and gas drilling. The state Department of Environmental Protection asked Danny Webb Construction to come up with an acceptable plan for the pit.

A pit filled with fracking water and other wastes is at risk of leaking.
Credit Jessica Lilly

Community members have been concerned about the waste site for years.

The pit is used to remove sediments from waste before being injected into the nearby underground injection well in Lochgelly. The permit for the well expired in October 2012 and remains in the renewal process.

James Peterson is the Underground Injection Control Permit Reviewer for the DEP Office of Oil and Gas. He says the UIC permit has not been accepted because the nearby sediment pond is not up to code. At a public meeting in June, community members shared concerns over the site. They worried the pit was leaking.

"We do not see that as leaking," Peterson explained, "but it has been compromised on top just where folks have been walking around the pit. So we’re looking at bringing him up to current pit construction standards."

Peterson says Danny Web Construction needs to fix the lining of the pit. Without it Peterson says the pit could leak. The DEP also wants the company to install a leak detection system. The DEP denied the first plan and is waiting on the company to submit another for review.

Peterson says the injection well itself wasn’t posing the regulatory problem, so the company can still accept waste.

Since the pond is used to remove solids from the waste, Peterson says Danny Webb Construction will need to use more filters at the site to avoid clogging the well itself. But  that’s not regulated so it’s up to the company to decide to use the filters. 

State lawmakers are considering other ways to dispose of fracking waste. Senate Majority Leader John Unger began the discussion during a meeting of a Joint Legislative Oversight Commission on state Water Resources last November.

You have to do something with those waste fluids and to date, that's the best answer; disposal wells. - James Peterson, WV DEP

Since water is mixed with various chemicals, pressurized, and pumped into wells to release the gas from the Marcellus shale rock formations during the fracking process, it’s a critical component in the process.  It’s estimated that in West Virginia, each horizontal well requires about 5 million gallons of fresh water.

About 10 percent of that comes back up during the process as “flowback” fluid. While new recycling practices adopted in the state are diverting about 75 percent of that flowback for reuse, Peterson points out that injection wells are still the best practice for disposing the remainder… at least for now.

"You have to do something with those waste fluids and to date, that’s the best answer; disposal wells," Peterson said.

"You’re putting fluids in a sense back where it came from into deep formations. The whole goal of the UIC program is to protect underground sources of drinking water fresh water aquifers so there’s monitoring requirements and construction requirements to make sure that happens."

Danny Web Construction did not immediately return our request for comment.

There are currently 17 permitted commercial disposal wells like the one owned by Danny Webb Construction. There are 54 non-commercial UIC disposal wells.