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Hundreds of W.Va. tanks reported in ‘critical’ zones


WHEELING, W.Va. — About 5 percent of tanks registered under West Virginia’s new above-ground storage tank bill are located within “zones of critical concern,” according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

As of Monday, more than 7,800 tanks had been registered with another 18,000 registrations pending, said Scott Mandirola, director of the DEP’s Division of Water and Waste Management, as he addressed the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association’s annual fall meeting Thursday at Oglebay Park. That means about 390 tanks have already been identified as being in an area where they pose a significant threat to the public if a malfunction occurs – with the potential for many more – as DEP officials estimate the Water Resource Protection Act, or Senate Bill 373, covers anywhere from 50,000 to 80,000 tanks.

A zone of critical concern, as defined by the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health, includes any point from where fluid can reach a major drinking water intake in five hours or less. That can vary based on geographic features, but for the Ohio River, the distance is 25 miles.

The width of the zone is 1,000 on either side of the riverbank for a main stem and 500 feet for tributaries.

“We’ve tried to make it so there’s not a lot of question whether you’re in or out,” Mandirola said.

An interpretive rule released Tuesday by the DEP intended to give tank operators guidance as the agency finalizes policies to present to the Legislature during its regular session next year puts tanks in three different categories. Tanks seen as high-risk will have tighter controls on inspections and spill prevention and response plans that must be submitted to the DEP by early December.

Level 1 tanks include those located within a zone of critical concern, those near a public wellhead serving more than 25 people, those storing a hazardous material as classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and all tanks 50,000 gallons or larger.

Level 3 tanks include those storing potable water and milk or other food-grade products, and hazardous waste tanks, which are already regulated under a separate program.

Level 2 tanks include all those that don’t fall into either Level 1 or Level 3.

Mandirola said many of the comments his office has received have dealt with why the agency is treating the classifications of tanks differently.

“It’s because you’re big, you’re bad or you’re in the wrong place,” Mandirola said of Level 1 tanks. “It’s because you’re a threat.”

Mandirola noted the rule gives DEP Secretary Randy Huffman discretion to place a tank in the Level 1 category if, for example, it falls just outside the boundary of a zone of critical concern or contains a hazardous substance developed since the EPA released its list.

Some operators with multiple tanks have expressed concerns over having to produce a large number of duplicate response plans. Kristin Boggs, general counsel for the DEP, said the law requires plans to be somewhat site specific, but if an operator has 50 tanks on the same site, one plan will suffice.

“If you have a tank in Wheeling and a tank in Charleston, you have to have two different plans,” Boggs said.

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