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NRDC Wants EPA Action on West Virginia Injection Wells

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has sent a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Mid-Atlantic office, imploring it to shut down two Class II injection wells operated by a West Virginia-based company that NRDC alleges have not been properly regulated by the state.

The five-page letter, sent Thursday to EPA Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin, claims that the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP), which has primacy over injection wells in the state, has failed to act against the Danny E. Webb Construction company, which the council says has a history of significant violations.

At issue are two injection wells, the North Hills 1 and North Hills 1A wells, which accept and dispose of oil and gas waste. NRDC claims that the WVDEP has disregarded evidence of ongoing risks to water resources in the area by authorizing injection to continue at the wells.

"The state of West Virginia appears unable or unwilling to ensure that the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act are met at this site, endangering drinking water sources," NRDC attorney Matthew McFeeley wrote in the letter. "The state's management of the site and apparent unwillingness to prevent clear violations also calls into question the state's regulation of the UIC [underground injection control] program throughout West Virginia."

NRDC takes issue with the state's site security standards to prevent illegal dumping, containment requirements and overall water testing standards. At the site in question, located in Fayette County, NRDC cites complaints from landowners in the area about water odors and changes in a stream close by.

The company has continued to say that nothing illegal has taken place at the site. The WVDEP couldn't comment because the matter is pending before the state's Environmental Quality Board.

In March, NRDC and the West Virginia Surface Owners' Rights Organization filed an appeal against one of the permits with the Environmental Quality board, which shortly thereafter revoked the permit, but it gave an order to continue allowing injection there. The groups then filed another appeal against that order, which is pending.

NRDC asked Garvin that its concerns be heard by identifying deficiencies in West Virginia's underground injection program and to suspend it if necessary. The letter also notes that earlier correspondence sent to the EPA about the matter has not received a response.

Thirty-three states have regulatory primacy over all classes of injection wells, while the EPA either oversees or shares primacy with the rest. Last year, the Buckeye Forest Council also asked the EPA to conduct a full audit of Ohio's underground injection program and suspend it in the meantime. 

In July, the Government Accountability Office said safeguards enacted by the EPA and state regulators to protect underground sources of drinking water from contamination by Class II injection wells don't adequately address emerging threats such as seismic activity (see Shale Daily, July 31), which NRDC also noted in its letter to the Mid-Atlantic office.

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