Sustained Outrage

Gas drilling pollution: Do lawmakers want answers?

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The dangers of water pollution from gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale have been made abundantly clear by the reporting of the folks at ProPublica and by local problems like the bill spill from a drilling site in Doddridge County discussed here last week.

But are West Virginia lawmakers really interested in finding solutions to these problems?

This morning, the Joint Legislative Oversight Commission on State Water Resources listed on its agenda a presentation by Ken Kirk, executive vice president of production for EQT Corp., one of the big players in Marcellus drilling.  According to the agenda, Kirk was to appear for a:

… Discussion of [his] Company’s recent contract with [a] wastewater disposal facility to receive an process Marcellus gas well wastewater for all the Company’s drilling operations in West Virginia.

Kirk briefed lawmakers on EQT’s deal with AOP Clearwater, which is building a plant in Marion County that will remove metals, salts and other pollutants from the wastewater created when drillers “frac” rocks underground to get out the oil and gas.

manchin_tim.jpgCommittee Co-Chairman Tim Manchin, D-Marion, asked a pretty simple question: What does this plant do with the metals, salts and other pollutants it takes out of gas drilling wastewater?

Kirk refused to answer. He said the plant and the process belonged to AOP Clearwater, and that company would have to provide that information. All Kirk would say is that these pollutants would be disposed of in a “regulatorily acceptable manner.”

If there was anybody from AOP Clearwater at the meeting, they didn’t step up to explain or to answer Manchin’s question.

And the amazing thing was … Manchin just let it go, and then at the end of the meeting praised EQT Corp. for doing such a great thing for West Virginia:

The state of West Virginia appreciates your company taking these steps to make this water environmentally friendly.

I was a little more curious than Manchin, so I looked up AOP Clearwater and called their  operations manager, Rob Bealko.Bealko wouldn’t answer the question either. He said the information was “proprietary” and I’d have to ask company President Louis Bonasso about it.

So, I called Bonasso. Turns out all of the plans for dealing with these metals, salts and other stuff that comes out of the fracing water haven’t been completely worked out yet.

One step of AOP Clearwater’s process removes metals and solids from the fracing water. Bonasso hopes those materials, once analyzed will be clean enough that they can just be sent to a regular landfill. But the plant isn’t up and running yet, so that’s not completely clear.

The second step of AOP Clearwater’s process “harvests” the salts from the fracing water. AOP hopes the salts will be pure enough that they can be sold to melt ice and snow from roads. But they don’t have any contracts for such sales yet, because buyers want to see how well the process works once the plant is up and running.

So while it may be a step in the right direction, EQT’s plan isn’t the silver bullet that lawmakers might have been led to believe.