Are environmental regulators safeguarding our drinking water? | Opinion


West Virginia environmental protection agencies are using loopholes and exemptions to effectively ignore rampant fracking and coal industry pollution.

For example, the oil and gas industry contends that it meets all federal environmental laws due to exemptions from the Superfund Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Toxic Release Inventory under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act. But due to such exemptions, neither the federal Safe Drinking Water Act nor the state’s Source Water Protection Act truly safeguard our water. Most incredibly, our state’s Hazardous Waste Management Act excludes gas and oil frack waste from all protective regulations. 

The Hazardous Waste Management Act of West Virginia requires that restrictions on oil and gas field waste be no more stringent than those of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which dictates that all oil- and gas-field wastes shall be classified and treated as NON-hazardous.

Also, for decades, permits issued by the West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection regularly shield such environmental abusers from lawsuits and deceptively imply that West Virginia’s watersheds are safe. Instead, under these deliberately faulty permits, the extremely hazardous chemicals used to process coal and to extract natural gas are being hauled, stored and dumped indirectly into our water sources. 

Industry lobbyists have thwarted effective oversight in still another way. Historically, the greatest threat to West Virginia’s source waters has been from industrial carelessness and outright abuse. Now, due to a hyped-up threat of terrorism, every Water Assessment and Protection volunteer in West Virginia is forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement and may face prosecution if they even inform their neighbors about stored toxins. Meanwhile, those who live or work near tanks, sludge ponds or injection sites will never be fully alerted until after a disaster.

Further, federal patent laws, non-disclosure and anti-Freedom of Information Act regulations prevent West Virginia citizens from knowing what new contaminants to test for in their drinking water.

In Fayette County, frack waste, often from out of state, is regularly dumped into inactive gas wells and abandoned coal mines. Predictably then, in 2012, residents at the headwaters of Fayette County’s Wolf Creek experienced a strong and persistent odor that appeared to be coming from a nearby state-permitted injection well. 

Reviewing WVDEP inspection reports, the residents in Wolf Creek discovered that for years they had been falsely assured that the millions of barrels of frack waste being injected into that abandoned gas well were safely contained. So at their request, Duke University geochemistry professor Avner Vengosh tested the community’s water. 

Although Vengosh’s Wolf Creek study proved beyond doubt that the waste injection well was leaking into a stream feeding public water intakes for three towns, and scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey confirmed that toxins from that well were reaching New River, the WVDEP re-permitted the site without repairing, or even monitoring, the leak.  

Thus, in 2015, a Fayette County ordinance protecting local drinking water was passed, and then struck down by a natural-gas-connected judge who refused to allow disclosure of the evidence behind the ordinance in a lawsuit by the fracking company against Fayette County.

The 2014 leak of the MCHM chemical into the Elk River in Charleston was, likewise, avoidable. As were the WVDEP-permitted, industry-based, water poisonings at Dunkard Creek, Rawl, Merrimac, Sprigg, Lick Creek and Prenter. 

How many more of these catastrophes shall we allow?

Barbara Daniels of Craigsville, West Virginia, who ran for a state delegate office in Nicholas County in 2016 as a West Virginia Mountain Party candidate, has participated as a citizen in researching and documenting environmental regulatory protection shortcomings across the state. Tom Rhule of Charleston, a lifelong resident of West Virginia, is a past communication director for the West Virginia Mountain Party.



Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *