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Editorial: Changes to state storage tank law yield good results

From The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington:

Compromise has become a rarer commodity in legislative bodies these days. However, members of West Virginia’s House of Delegates last week did manage to find some common ground before passing a bill related to how many chemical storage tanks have to comply with tougher laws passed following the 2014 Freedom Industries leak in Kanawha County.

That leak contaminated the drinking water of about 300,000 people in a nine-county area and was followed by tough new rules that required registration and inspection of tens of thousands of storage tanks throughout the state. In 2015, after complaints from the business sector, those regulations were eased to a degree.

But representatives of the oil and gas industry continued to complain, saying that the rules were unduly burdensome and hurting companies in that field economically because the industry has so many tanks that store brine and other waste liquids.

The result was legislation introduced this year that would have exempted smaller tanks used by the oil and gas industry from the Aboveground Storage Tank Act. According to estimates by the Department of Environmental Protection, that means 29,000 of the 42,000 tanks now covered by the law would not be required to register their tanks with the DEP or undergo inspection or meet any other tank safety requirements passed three years ago. Tanks located in what are dubbed “critical zones,” or within five hours upstream of drinking water intakes, would still be subject to the law’s registration and inspection rules. But those outside the “critical zones” would not even have to register the tanks, under the bill’s original form.

That’s taking the relaxation of regulations too far. Environmental groups complained, and during legislative committee hearings, lawmakers learned a bit more about the current law’s impact and potential dangers. For example, it was determined that the current law placed very few demands on the owners of a majority of the tanks other than registering them and paying a $20-per-tank fee, according to a report by the Charleston Gazette-Mail. And despite the contention of industry representatives, the tanks used in oil and gas extraction do contain potentially dangerous materials such as saltwater and crude oil.

In light of that, a compromise was reached that makes sense. Owners would still have to register all the tanks, but tanks outside any of the five-hour “critical zones” would not be subject to other requirements, such as inspections. The end result is that about 2,300 tanks located outside those critical zones but within 10 hours upstream of a water intake would no longer be subject to any requirement other than registering. But registering them is important. That lets the DEP know where the tanks are located and what they contain. Signs also must be posted at the tank listing the owners and how to contact them, in case a leak occurs.

The bill now goes to the Senate for its consideration. Let’s hope the Senate keeps intact the good middle ground that was reached on this legislation.

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