The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Latest News

March 31, 2013

Lochgelly disposal well up for re-permit

How safe is underground injection?

LOCHGELLY — Should the state continue to allow waste fluids from oil and gas drilling to be pumped underground in Fayette County? That’s the question officials must answer as an underground injection control (UIC) well in Lochgelly comes up for re-permitting.

Everyday citizens may not have much experience with such wells, and there’s a lot to learn. So — why does the injection well in Lochgelly exist, and how does it work?

Class II disposal wells exist because of the large amount of fluid produced by oil and gas extraction in the U.S. — more than 3 trillion gallons over the course of several decades.

Instead of discharging it into rivers or collecting it in cesspools, the fluid is pumped deep underground.

Disposal wells make up approximately 20 percent of the 144,000 Class II UIC wells in the country. Class II wells collectively inject 2 billion gallons of produced fluid into the earth every day, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). They are one of six types of UIC wells permitted by federal regulation.

Much of the fluid is brine brought to the surface during oil and gas production. The salty water can also contain toxic metals and radioactive substances from underground, plus fracking chemicals, which have been shown to contain a variety of toxins.

The fluid is injected into the same geological formation from which it came, or a similar one, using a pressurized well.

The idea is that confining layers of rock keep the fluid from migrating upward and contaminating the water table. The injection pressure is kept below the pressure it would take to fracture the rock around or above the fluid.

Why it matters for Fayette County

Danny Webb Construction operates two disposal wells and one holding pit with a divider down the middle on Towne Hollow Road in Lochgelly.

The produced fluid is trucked to the site and either pumped into holding tanks or — if it contains a lot of dirt or coal — into the holding pit, where the solids settle out. The fluid then passes through a 5-micron filter and is injected underground.

“It was nothing but a pure garbage dump when I purchased the property,” says Webb, who has been in the oil and gas business since 1984, has an interest in about 100 gas wells, and defends his business as not only legal but “the environmental thing to do.”  

“The state (Office of Oil and Gas) was the ones that brought me in and showed this to me in the first place and told me they thought there was a need for it,” he says.

Only one well is actively being used at the moment, and that’s the one up for re-permitting. It has absorbed more than 1.4 million barrels of brine since 2002, when it was created.

There is no limit on the amount of fluid that can be injected, as long as the company passes mechanical integrity tests on the wells.

Any fluid from an oil and gas operation — from West Virginia or elsewhere — is fair game, including not only brine but drilling fluid, fracking fluid, and other wastes. Webb’s company must do the hauling of the waste; no third-party haulers are allowed.

“Five years ago, it was probably one of the higher volume wells (in the state), but currently it’s dropped off,” says Jamie Peterson, who oversees Class II wells for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

He says that now there’s more competition from other disposal wells in the northern part of the state, which are closer to thicker deposits of recently tapped Marcellus shale. Fewer and fewer coal bed methane wells, which supplied most of the well’s business, are being drilled these days.

Webb says the state also suggested building the pit, to save on cost and keep him in business.

“They want this to go,” he said.

The longer he holds the water in the pit, the less he has to filter it. He calls the pit the “backbone” of his operation, without which he would spend three times as much on filters. He spends about $100,000 per year currently.

“I’m not the only one doing this, but seems like I’m the only one they pick on,” he says, referring to those with a concern over how the well might be affecting health, water and the environment.

Indeed, West Virginia is host to 759 Class II wells, including another in Fayette County operated by EQT Production Company.

Webb pays $118 in property taxes to Fayette County each year for his 4.76-acre property around the well.

Text Only
Latest News
  • Suspect arrested, faces felony charges following shooting incident

    A Mercer County man was arrested and arraigned on felony charges Thursday after a domestic altercation led to a shooting incident in the Montcalm area of Mercer County.

    August 1, 2014

  • pittsburgh rally 5,000 rally in Pittsburgh against EPA Clean Power Plan

    The echo of people chanting, “Hey, hey, EPA, don’t take our jobs away” could be heard in downtown Pittsburgh Thursday. The voices came from about 5,000 United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) members and their families, along with other unions such as the Boilermakers and the Brotherhood of Electrical Workers International (IBEW), marching through the streets.

     

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo 3 Stories

  • Alpha plans to idle coal workers

    Approximately 1,100 employees at 11 Alpha Resources-affiliated surface mines, preparation plants and other support operations in southern West Virginia got notice late Thursday afternoon that their jobs could be in jeopardy.

     

    August 1, 2014

  • New rules to fight black lung disease kick in today

    Joe Massie has spent the last 22 years of his life fighting a disease that takes his breath away, a disease he contracted deep underground in the coal mines over a period of 30 years.  Black lung may take away his breath; it has not stilled his voice.

    August 1, 2014

  • target red Zero tolerance Target Red campaign hopes to lessen intersection crashes

    It happens every day. A driver hurries on his or her way to work, school or maybe nowhere in particular. Just ahead, a green light turns yellow. With a little more gas, the vehicle just might be able to clear the intersection before that light turns red. Or maybe not. 

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • Alpha announces intention to lay off 1,100 surface miners

    The announcement dealt another blow to Appalachia's iconic, but dwindling, fossil fuel industry. The company said 2015 industry forecasts show Central Appalachian coal production will be less than half of its 2009 output. It's due to a combination of familiar factors, Alpha said: competition from cheaper natural gas, weak domestic and international markets and low coal prices.

     

    July 31, 2014

  • Justice mines have violations in 5 states

    A West Virginia coal billionaire has more than 250 pending violations at mining operations in Kentucky and four other states.

    July 31, 2014

  • VA Greenbrier clinic to remain closed

    The Department of Veterans Affairs Greenbrier County Community Based Outpatient Clinic will remain closed due to ongoing correction of environmental concerns. 

    July 31, 2014

  • prezarrested.jpg Protesters arrested at UMWA Rally in Pittsburgh

    After marching from the David L. Lawrence Convention Center to the William S. Moorehead Federal Building in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, around 15 United Mine Workers of America (UMW) leaders were arrested.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo 3 Stories

  • Mercer shooting sends one to hospital

     One person has been shot following an apparent altercation in the Montcalm area of Mercer County.

    July 31, 2014