A bill introduced in the West Virginia House of Delegates would exempt 29,000 oil and natural gas industry storage tanks from a law passed in 2014 aimed at better protecting public water supplies in the state from industrial chemicals.
That's a large chunk of the 42,000 storage tanks covered by the Aboveground Storage Tank Act, or SB 373, which took effect in June 2014. The law requires an inventory and registration of the tanks, the submittal of spill prevention response plans and certified inspections under a program overseen by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP).
HB 2811 would exempt tanks with capacities of 210 barrels that hold brine water or any other fluids from "hydrocarbon production activities" if they're located in an area near drinking water intakes. The law would still cover larger industry tanks. The bill's lead sponsor is Republican Delegate Roger Hanshaw, but it has bipartisan support. It was introduced March 7, cleared the House Energy Committee unanimously and was sent to the House Judiciary Committee the same day.
The aboveground storage act was prompted by a January 2014 incident in which thousands of gallons of coal-cleaning chemicals leaked from a Freedom Industries processing facility on the Elk River, a waterway from which numerous communities draw their water supplies. The cleanup took months.
When the legislation was making its way through the state legislature three years ago, some lawmakers voiced concerns about which industries would have to comply and proposed exemptions that failed at the time. The gas industry has targeted it since.
While HB 2811 has already met resistance from environmental groups, its supporters say the bill would ease the underfunded WVDEP's workload and exempt the kind of tanks that don't face as much scrutiny as other classes.
Democratic Gov. Jim Justice supports the bill and has said since taking office in January that more must be done to sustain the oil and gas industry given its significance to the state’s economy. The legislature's 60-day session adjourns April 8.