In the natural gas industry, waste left over after horizontal drilling
operations is colloquially referred to as "drill cuttings".
These cuttings typically contain significant levels of radiation emitting
materials such as radium, uranium, and radon. Radium, a substance known
to increase the risk of lymphoma, bone cancer, and blood disorders, is
known to be particularly prevalent in this type of drilling waste.
Since 2010, landfills across West Virginia have been accepting the potentially
cancer-causing cuttings without any formal radiation monitoring or control
program in place. In the year 2013 alone, the Wetzel County landfill became
the resting place for some 250,000 tons of unmonitored radioactive cuttings
from drilling operations in the region.
"We are just not set up for this . . . We never, in the history of
the U.S., have placed this radioactive waste in local landfills"
Bill Hughes, Chairman of the Wetzel County Solid Waste Authority.
Just recently in 2014, the West Virginia Legislature finally passed a law
requiring state-owned landfills to monitor the radiation levels of any
cuttings deposited therein. After accepting these cuttings for four straight
years, landfills in Wetzel, Brooke, Wood and Harrison counties are just
now beginning the process of installing radiation detectors. Notwithstanding
this recent commencement of radiation
detection efforts, neither the state nor federal governments have done anything to
control radiation contaminations already emanating from these sites.
Furthermore, some industry officials believe detection efforts will merely
provide false security, only detecting the worst loads of waste and overlooking
others. The true solution, in their opinion, is to monitor for radiation
levels at the horizontal well bore prior to arrival at the landfill. However,
state legislators seem reluctant to impose these additional regulations
on drilling companies despite the fact that they are a simple solution
that would detect harmful materials before they reach local landfills.
The effects of these omissions are currently unknown. However, the gratuitous
amount of radioactive materials being deposited in landfills that are
only suited for household waste presents the potential for disastrous
damage to the health of waste workers and local residents alike.
Hartley & O'Brien, PLLC, is a
personal injury and toxic tort law firm with offices in Wheeling and Charleston, West
Virginia. Our attorneys provide aggressive representation and excellent
legal advice for clients who have suffered from exposure to harmful materials. With
more than 30 years of legal experience and a
heavy focus on toxic exposure cases, our legal team fights for positive results in personal injury cases.