WV SORO Update Archive

April 9, 2012

Comments on Centralized Pit Construction Standards Due April 12
The DEP Office of Oil and Gas is taking comments on its design and construction standards for centralized pits used to store wastewater associated with horizontal drilling. The standards provide guidelines for construction, liner requirements, water quality monitoring and engineer certifications.

WV-SORO is preparing to submit comments on the standards and has put together information and talking points (see below) for others wishing to comment.
Comments will be accepted until Thursday, April 12, 2012 at 5 p.m.  Comments may be submitted in writing by email to dep.oogcomments@wv.gov or through the U.S. Postal Service to:

John Kearney
Office of Oil and Gas
601 57th Street SE
Charleston, WV 25304.

The proposed design and construction standards can be found  here.

Talking Points on Proposed Design and Construction Standards for Centralized Pits

Good Things about the Proposed Design and Construction Standards

The proposed standards impose restrictions on where centralized waste pits can be located.  Currently there are no limitations or restrictions on where pits can be located. Under the proposed standards centralized pits are prohibited:

  • In the 100-year floodplain of waters of this State.
  • In or within 100 feet of a wetland.
  • In areas with karst geology.
  • Within 500 feet measured horizontally from an occupied dwelling, unless the owner thereof has provided a written waiver consenting to the pit being closer than 500 feet.
  • Within 500 feet of a perennial stream.
  • Within 500 feet of a private water source.
  • Within 1,000 feet of a public water source.

The proposed standards recognize the threats posed to surface and groundwater by requiring waste pits to have the following safeguards:

  • Dual (or two layers of) liners, with a leak detection system between the liner layers. The minimum liner thickness is 60mil. Thinner liners with no leak detection have torn and leaked potentially toxic liquids into soils, surface water and groundwater.
  • A water quality monitoring system that can detect the entry of contaminants into surface and groundwater.  Operators must install a minimum of one monitoring well near each centralized pit and collect and analyze samples from each well on a quarterly basis.  

Shortcomings of and Other Comments on the Proposed Design and Construction Standards


  • Drilling pits are not necessary.  There are alternatives to pits, such as closed containment (tanks) and closed-loop drilling systems, which can greatly reduce or eliminate the health, environmental and other risks and problems associated with pits.  These alternatives can also save operators money.  
  • More detailed and stringent design and construction standards and operational criteria for ALL waste pits are long overdue.  When pits are used to store oil and gas drilling wastes, dual liners, leak detection and fences and other protective devices to keep out wildlife, livestock and other domestic animals should be minimum requirements.  Additionally, on-site disposal of drilling pit liners and other waste materials should be prohibited. Drillers should be required to take the pit liners and the waste contained within to a facility approved for the receipt of these wastes.  
  • However, drilling pits are not necessary.  There are alternatives to pits that can greatly reduce or eliminate the health, environmental and other risks and problems associated with pits.  These alternatives can also save operators money.  The state should be doing more to encourage the use of these best available technologies and practices at all drilling operations.  
  • The proposed design and construction standards apply only to high-volume (those with a capacity of 210, 000 gallons or 5,000 barrels) centralized pits, or off-site pits not associated with a specific well work or drilling permit. All pits should be subject to more stringent standards; however at a minimum all high-volume pits should be subject to the same standards regardless of whether or not they are associated with a specific permit.  


  • Although the proposed prohibitions are more stringent than most other states, their applicability is limited and they may not be protective enough. (Some states require pits be further from streams, other water bodies and wetlands.  Others apply the distance from homes to hospitals, nursing homes, schools, places of worship and other places people gather. Only New Mexico requires pits to be further (1,000 feet) from a residence.) In addition to soil and water contamination, pits can produce odors and toxic air contaminants.  
  • The proposed standards and regulations provide more protection for public water supplies and intakes than they do for private water wells and springs.  Adequate setbacks are needed for the protection of all water supplies (public and private).
  • While the proposed standards place restrictions on the location and construction of pits relative perennial streams, consideration should also be given to construction around or the filling of intermittent or ephemeral streams.  


  • Site Preparation – In addition to springs, additional drainage requirements should be included that involved the filling of or is located near the intermittent or ephemeral streams, to avoid the occurrence of slips and other problems.  
  • Embankment Design – A time frame should be specified for seeding, mulching and establishing permanent vegetative cover on exposed embankment slopes.  
  • Distance from Seasonal High Groundwater Table – A restriction with regard to groundwater is needed and appreciated, however a distance of 20 inches is not adequate.  West Virginia design standards for septic tanks systems require a 4-foot minimum between absorption areas and the seasonal high groundwater table or bedrock.  


  • Sub-base Requirements

                When preparing the sub-base extra padding using, soil, sand, or smooth gravel should be required if rocky or uneven areas are encountered and the sub-base should be free of any material that may puncture, tear, cut, rip or otherwise cause the liner system to fail.  

                A minimum distance should be established between any exposed bedrock and the top of the sub-base.

                The use of organic material in the sub-base should be prohibited.  The decomposition of organic matter releases gas that can cause the liner system to rupture and burst.

  • Secondary and Primary Liner Requirements

                Two issues that are not addressed in the liner requirements are liner seams and anchoring specifications.  The standards should specify minimum requirements as is done for liner thickness and permeability.  

                The surface owner should be provided with copies of the required quality assurance and quality control plans.


  • In addition to establishing monitoring wells to monitor general groundwater quality over the life of the pits, the standards should also require evaluation of baseline water quality of nearby drinking water wells and springs.  
  • Data Analysis – A copy of the required data analysis of the water samples collected should be provided to the surface owner and owners of nearby drinking water wells and developed springs.
  • Water Sampling and Testing Parameters

                The proposed standards require the collection of water samples once per calendar quarter. A more frequent sampling schedule would be more meaningful.  Conductivity and pH in particular can be easily measured in the field and relatively inexpensive monitors (compared to the cost of establishing the monitoring well) can be deployed to measure and record these parameters on a continuous basis.  

                Although the minimum parameters are good indicators of possible contamination, they are not regulated by primary drinking water standards.  The list of testing parameters should be expanded to include constituents such as heavy metals, chemicals or chemical compounds used in hydraulic fracturing  and naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORMs) known to exist in the Marcellus Shale – constituents DEP’s own sampling has shown are present in drilling wastewater.

                At a minimum, non-seasonal changes in the parameters specified in the proposed standards should immediately trigger additional sampling and more extensive testing for heavy metals, BTEX and radioactivity. If changes occur, owners of nearby drinking water wells and springs should be notified immediately, and their wells and springs should also be sampled and tested for potential contaminants.


  • Certification Report – The surface owner should receive a copy of the final certification report submitted to the Department.  
  • Pit Completion and Filling – The surface owner should be given some say on filling of the pit or at least be notified prior to filling.  [Note: This section refers to filling with waste, not filling as in filling and reclaiming.  Closure and reclamation are not addressed in the proposed standards.]

West Virginia Surface Owners' Rights Organization
1500 Dixie Street, Charleston, West Virginia 25311