On the evening of February 1, a fire erupted at a West Virginia facility that processes radioactive oilfield waste generated from nearby fracking operations, injuring two workers.
A video of the fire captured by local news station WTRF shows a raging nighttime inferno billowing out of the collapsed building.
Initial news reports described the facility — located in Dallas Pike, 50 miles southwest of Pittsburgh — as a truck stop cleaning station. However, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) confirmed to DeSmog that the facility, which the agency says is owned and operated by Ohio-based company Petta Enterprises, does a lot more than clean trucks: It processes oil and gas waste. And the agency confirmed that it was the volatile nature of this waste — transported inside trucks arriving at the site — that helped cause the blaze.
The blast raises concerns about the risk to health and the environment from waste processing facilities like this which continue to pop up around the Marcellus and Utica shale region, not just in West Virginia, but also Ohio and Pennsylvania. Community members, advocacy groups, and some industry workers fear that the government, whether local, state, or federal, is not properly regulating or monitoring the toxic and radioactive waste produced from fracking and being processed at sites like the Dallas Pike facility.
Lou Vargo, Director of West Virginia’s Wheeling-Ohio County Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, told DeSmog the blaze occurred when a type of worksite space heating unit called a torpedo heater ignited vapors leftover in an oil and gas waste truck that was being cleaned at the facility. The heater apparently was being used to warm the workspace on a cold, snowy night.