During a special session called by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, the West Virginia legislature on Friday overwhelmingly passed a bill that will allow seven landfills in the northern part of state to increase their tonnage limits and accept more drill cuttings and waste from horizontal well sites.

Tomblin was expected to call the session after legislators failed to pass the measure before adjourning on March 8 (see Shale Daily, March 11). He is expected to sign the bill when it reaches his desk. The legislation will also require the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to conduct a study on leaching from the landfills and monitor surface water, groundwater and radiation at the sites.

Just six of the state's 22 landfills are currently accepting drill cuttings, but the issue has been the subject of heated debate in the state since a memo leaked from the DEP in July (see Shale Daily, Jan. 13). The memo acknowledged that solid waste disposal was on the rise as a result of the Natural Gas Horizontal Well Control Act of 2011, which required drill cuttings be disposed of in regulated landfills.

It also gave disposal sites a choice between applying to expand their monthly tonnage limit from 10,000 to 30,000 tons, or constructing an entirely separate cell dedicated to the disposal of drill cuttings. The bill amends Article 15 of the state's Solid Waste Management Act and would allow the seven facilities that applied for permits to build a separate area for more drilling waste.

The industry's opponents and environmentalists have cited concerns about naturally-occurring radioactive properties in drill cuttings and their effects on public health. The West Virginia Environmental Council issued a statement late last week saying that municipal landfills are not equipped to handle drilling waste or the hazards they pose.

Tom Aluise, a DEP spokesman, has said that the cuttings belong in regulated landfills, which he claims are the safest place for them. The other option, he told NGI's Shale Daily earlier this year, would be to dispose of or store them in pits near well pads in the state.