Legislators want tank laws revised

CHARLESTON – More than 12,000 above-ground storage tanks are in the process of being registered with the state of West Virginia, but officials say confusion remains over some requirements and exemptions.

Kelley Gillenwater, spokesperson for the West Virginia Department of Environmental protection, said as of Friday a total of 12,236 above-ground tanks have been registered or are in the process of being registered with the state DEP. Of those, 3,284 are complete.

Businesses have until Oct. 1 to complete the registration process, which is required under the Water Resource Protection Act which was passed last session in response to a massive chemical leak in Kanawha County which tainted drinking water for thousands of residents.

The act also requires inspections of those tanks to be completed by Jan. 1, 2015. Gillenwater said the law requires those inspections to be completed by a registered professional engineer or signed off on by a professional engineer.

Gillenwater said the DEP has been receiving calls daily from companies confused by the regulations. The requirements overlap with some requirements already in place for certain kinds of storage tanks or those within areas

“We get multiple questions a day from tank owners who are unsure what the guidelines are. We get a lot of questions just about the registration process in general,” she said. “We have a few employees who are standing by to help people with the process, and they have been very busy.”

Majority Leader Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, lead sponsor of the Water Resource Protection Act, said legislators will have to look over the regulations and exemptions in the coming session.

“It definitely will be before the Legislature,” he said. “We have rules that are being developed and have to go before the Legislature for approval.”

Unger said he has heard concerns voiced primarily by those in the oil and gas industry which already is regulated under existing laws. Some companies and municipalities also say they are being required to have expensive inspections performed on tanks which hold water or brine, neither of which pose a public health issue even in the event of a leak.

“The intention of the legislation wasn’t to add additional regulations or inspections, just that all tanks be registered,” Unger said. “If they had water and salt water, they wouldn’t necessarily have to be inspected, but certain types of chemicals would require inspections.”

House Speaker Del. Tim Miley, D-Harrison, said he believes the law should be looked at by the Legislature.

“We passed a very comprehensive water protection bill in light of what happened in Charleston,” he said. “Now that we are several months post-passage, we are hearing from certain segments of businesses that the bill may have had some unduly burdensome consequences.”

Part of the issue, Miley said, is the law includes everything from smaller 100-gallon storage tanks to large industrial sized units.

“The result is hundreds of tanks of a smaller nature required not only to be registered but also inspected, and these tanks aren’t in areas of critical concern,” he said. “I think the law was written a little too broadly.”

Unger said while the law was never intended to cause a financial burden to small companies or cause some businesses to be regulated multiple times on the same issue, he believes registering all storage tanks is still in the best interest of the public.

“I have no problem with all tanks being registered. We should know where they are and what is in them,” Unger said. “That’s not going to cause anybody any problems unless they are trying to hide something.”

Unger dismissed the idea of exempting storage tanks that are not near a major water source.

“The argument is that a tank may be somewhere in West Virginia that is not near a river or stream,” he said. “It doesn’t necessarily need to be located near surface water, but it could very well be leaking into groundwater. A lot of West Virginians are on ground water – wells and things like that – and it would be a major health issue for them.”

Unger said the age of some tanks also is a concern.

“Some of the tanks we are talking about are 60-70 years old,” he said.

Unger said he agrees with businesses the law should be reviewed and modified where needed, but said any such changes should be made with caution.

“I support (businesses) in their efforts to find a balance, but I want us to be conscious of our efforts to protect our water resources,” he said.

“The law probably went a little too far,” Miley said, “and we need to revisit it to make sure the law accomplishes what it was designed to do, and that is make sure that our water intake sources are adequately protected.

“If you make a mistake, you go back and fix it. There is nothing prohibiting us from going back and fixing it.”