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Relatively few W.Va. tanks reported in critical zones

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Officials with the state Department of Environmental Protection say storage tanks in zones of critical concern account for less than 6 percent of the above-ground storage tanks registered so far.

Tank owners have until Oct. 1 to register tanks, requirements from Senate Bill 373, the Water Resource Protection Act, which was drafted and passed last session in response to the January chemical spill at Freedom Industries, which tainted the water supply for hundreds of thousands of West Virginia residents in and around Charleston.

Kelley Gillenwater, spokesperson for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, said so far 12,794 storage tanks have been registered and another 20,195 are in the process of being registered. Officials have estimated between 50,000 and 80,000 storage tanks in West Virginia fall under the tank bill’s registration and inspection requirements.

“We do expect that number (of registered tanks) to increase dramatically over the next eight to 10 days,” she said.

Gillenwater said of the more than 12,000 tanks registered, only 716, about 5.6 percent, fall into “zones of critical concern,” which means they are located near sources of drinking water or would pose an immediate health risk if they leaked or ruptured. Gillenwater said while officials expect the number of registered tanks to increase within the next two weeks, the percentage of critical tanks is expected to remain about the same.

Officials have said the original intention of the legislation was to address potential hazards in those critical zones, but critics have said the net was cast too wide when the law was passed, taking in tanks which contained only water or food products or storage tanks located in remote areas of the state.

The storage tank requirements apply to any tanks which hold 1,320 gallons or more, that are 90 percent above-ground and which are at a fixed location for 60 days or more, Gillenwater said.

Tank owners must file a spill plan by Dec. 1 and have inspections completed on tanks by Jan. 1. The DEP two weeks ago issued interpretive rules, giving companies guidance on how stringent the inspections need to be and who was allowed to conduct the inspection depending on the tank’s location and contents.

Gillenwater said those interpretive rules helped allay the concerns of the oil and gas industry, which represents about 20,000-40,000 of the tanks in West Virginia.

“It appears to have alleviated a lot of the concerns over having a registered professional engineer” to conduct the tank inspections, she said. Under the interpretive rules that level of inspector is only required for top-tier storage tanks, those with hazardous chemicals or located in areas of critical concern, such as those located near drinking water sources.

Gillenwater said those that fail to register their tanks by Oct. 1 could come under scrutiny by the state agency.

“We’re not out to get anybody. Some people may just not be aware their tanks fall under the requirements,” she said. “We do have the authority to issue fines if someone is willfully violating the law, but if someone is making a good-faith effort, we will work with them to help them get registered and through the process.”

Even so, Gillenwater said the deadline will be enforced.

“Our goal is to have everyone registered by that Oct. 1 deadline,” she said. “It is crucial for us to have that inventory of tanks in the state. That is a crucial first step in implementing the program.”

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s office praised the work of the DEP on getting the state’s above-ground storage tanks registered and in compliance with the new law.

“Gov. Tomblin appreciates the hard work of (DEP) Secretary Randy Huffman and the DEP in implementing Senate Bill 373 to ensure the safety of our state’s water resources while alleviating the undue burden on tank owners to comply,” said Chris Stadelman, a spokesman for Tomblin. “The governor encourages all tank owners to register tanks as soon as possible to give the DEP ample opportunity to move forward with the tank inspection process.”

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