By Jonathan Mattise
The Associated Press
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A study by state regulators says it’s unlikely that significant amounts of untreated natural gas drilling waste in landfills will impact groundwater or surface water.

In the event that the waste’s runoff did hit nearby water untreated, however, the material would likely exceed chemical limits for drinking water and be toxic to plants and invertebrate life, the study concludes.

In a report released Wednesday, the Department of Environmental Protection looked into the runoff from drill cuttings dumped into landfills. The report studied four of the six West Virginia landfills that accept drilling waste, and compared them to two others that don’t.

The report says most groundwater near the studied landfills isn’t used for public water supplies, but is likely used for some private water supplies.

Radioactive levels in landfills that accept the drilling waste sometimes exceeded state limits for radioactivity in waterways. Treatment facilities that took in the drilling material had radioactive discharges similar to ones that didn’t handle its treatment.

The study says a new landfill for the material could take five or more years to build and cost the oil and gas industry $80 million. At least two new landfills would be needed to ensure drill operators didn’t have to drive further to dump their material than they currently do, the report says.

The study outlined some risks of the material ending up in waterways untreated: heavy precipitation events, overflow of piping systems connecting landfills to treatment facilities, cracks in piping systems handling the fluids, treatment system failures and landfill liner failures.

“It cannot be determined if or when landfill leachate might impact groundwater in the long-term,” the report says.

The report found that the drill cuttings were not suitable for road building, or capping of brownfield sites.

But it also says parts of the material could potentially be used in a mix to fill abandoned underground mines and keep them from collapsing, or to fill other unused structures, including underground storage tanks, sewers or abandoned basements.

Environmental officials collaborated on the report with the state Division of Highways, branches of Marshall University and Glenville State University, and Research Environmental & Industrial Consultants.

The study was sent to a state legislative committee Wednesday, as required by a 2014 law.