Drilling Waste Dumped On Pennsylvania Roads

The Pennsylvania oil and gas (O&G) industry is at it again, with help from their friends in Harrisburg.

(Updated blog from January 16, 2020)

Image: The label on these trucks says “RESIDUAL WASTE” but what does that mean?

Pennsylvania GOP

Predominately Pa. GOP legislators are trying to pass legislation allowing the O&G industry to resume “brine” spreading (from conventional O&G wells) on Pennsylvania’s public roads. These fluids bear very little resemblance to what’s used to brine a Thanksgiving turkey, other than their saltiness (so do not use this brine on a turkey).

Plus the BIG question: How do you really know what they’re dumping? Without strict monitoring (highly unlikely) those fluids could also be from unconventional Marcellus Shale wells. In either case, it’s toxic stuff that’s best kept out of our environment.
January 15th Pa. Environment Digest Blog by David E. Hess:

Final Vote Expected Next Week In House On Bill Reducing Environmental Protection Requirements For Conventional Oil & Gas Drilling

House Republicans are positioning Senate Bill 790 (Scarnati-R-Jefferson) for a final vote by the full House next week.  The bill would significantly reduce requirements for protecting the environment from conventional oil and gas drilling.

The bill was then referred to the House Appropriations Committee, the last stop before a final vote in the full House– probably on Tuesday or Wednesday of next week. If a final vote is taken, the bill will return to the Senate for an up or down concurrence vote.  Or, the Senate could choose to restore its language legalizing dumping and send it back to the House.

The House action follows a vote by the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee on January 13 to amend the bill to remove a provision legalizing the road dumping of conventional drilling wastewater, but the bill still significantly reduces environmental protections from the impacts of conventional oil and gas well drilling.


Why the concern?

2018 Study: Environmental and Human Health Impacts of Spreading Oil and Gas Wastewater on Roads
”ABSTRACT: Thirteen states in the United States allow the spreading of O&G wastewaters on roads for deicing or dust suppression. In this study, the potential environmental and human health impacts of this practice are evaluated. Analyses of O&G wastewaters spread on roads in the northeastern, U.S. show that these wastewaters have salt, radioactivity, and organic contaminant concentrations often many times above drinking water standards. Bioassays also indicated that these wastewaters contain organic micropollutants that affected signaling pathways consistent with xenobiotic metabolism and caused toxicity to aquatic organisms like Daphnia magna. The potential toxicity of these wastewaters is a concern as lab experiments demonstrated that nearly all of the metals from these wastewaters leach from roads after rain events, likely reaching ground and surface water. Release of a known carcinogen (e.g., radium) from roads treated with O&G wastewaters has been largely ignored. In Pennsylvania from 2008 to 2014, spreading O&G wastewater on roads released over 4 times more radium to the environment (320 millicuries) than O&G wastewater treatment facilities and 200 times more radium than spill events. Currently, state-by-state regulations do not require radium analyses prior to treating roads with O&G wastewaters. Methods for reducing the potential impacts of spreading O&G wastewaters on roads are discussed.” Source

Berks Gas Truth sent committee members a  copy of a letter sent in October to lawmakers and Gov. Wolf.  166 organizations and 1,445 individuals have now signed the letter that expresses opposition to the bill that allows the road-spreading of drilling waste on unpaved roads in the Commonwealth:

Dear Senators,

On October 21, the Senate passed SB 790 by a vote of 26 – 23. The vote was held as soon as the bill left the Appropriations Committee and was conducted without debate. The bill is a controversial one with many concerning provisions, including one that allows for the spreading of brine from conventional drilling on unpaved roads as a dust-suppressant. We, the undersigned, are writing to protest your refusal to follow the established process in a rush to get a win for the industry you have come to believe you represent.

Just last year, a team of Penn State researchers published a peer-reviewed study that found that “in Pennsylvania from 2008 to 2014, spreading O&G wastewater on roads released over 4 times more radium to the environment (320 millicuries) than O&G wastewater treatment facilities and 200 times more radium than spill events.”

Earlier this year, another study from PSE Healthy Energy that looked at oil and gas waste management from 1991 – 2017 found that about 30 percent of waste came from conventional drilling. Road spreading of waste was first reported in 1995.

PA Environment Digest summarized the findings reported by lead author Lee Ann Hill. “The study found 5,725,353 barrels [240,464,826 gallons] of wastewater from conventional oil and gas wells were applied to roads between 1991 and 2017. 97.9 percent of that waste — 235,415,065 gallons– remained in Pennsylvania and was spread on roads.

In 2017, approximately 193,000 barrels [8.1 million gallons] of wastewater from conventional oil and gas operations were used for road spreading. This accounted for 0.3 percent of all wastewater generated in 2017, according to Hill.”

As you know, the DEP put a moratorium on road-spreading of brine in 2018 as a result of a 2017 Environmental Hearing Board appeal. Then, in May of this year, days after the PSE Healthy Energy study was published, the Pennsylvania Grade Crude Development Advisory Council (CDAC) wrote in its Annual Report , “At public comment at various meetings during the year the presidents of PIOGA and PGCC complained to CDAC about the oil and gas production constraints and the economic hardship suffered as a result of the dwindling number of produced water options.

“Among other things the presidents of the trade organizations called upon CDAC to direct its efforts to the re-initiation of the brine spreading/dust suppression program suspended by the DEP, but which had operated previously for several decades.”

Our state government has a sad tradition of catering to every whim of the natural gas industry. Among the members of CDAC are Senator Hutchinson, a co-sponsor of SB 790, Senator Yudichak, DCED Secretary Dennis Davin, DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell, Representative Martin Causer, prime sponsor of HB 1635, a similar measure introduced in the House, and Representative Ryan Bizzarro.

Doing the bidding of the natural gas industry is not your job. You are in Harrisburg to represent the best interests of Pennsylvanians. You are failing us, regularly and miserably. We call on the House to stop both SB 790 and HB 1635. Should they fail to represent our best interests, we call on Governor Wolf to commit to vetoing whichever bill reaches his desk.

Organizations and Businesses
(166 organizations and 1,445 individuals Listed)

Image: Map Of Future Dumpsites For Conventional Oil & Gas Drilling Wastewater If Road Dumping Is Approved By General Assembly
Click Here to zoom in on the map to find your house.

Image: Cute little smiley face, but the liquid had a very strong chemical odor that really stunk, so I gathered a sample from Parkview Road in Avella, Pa. for a watershed friend to test. He said the odor about knocked him off his feet when he unscrewed the cap! This gravel road borders Cross Creek County Park which is a SPECIAL PROTECTION WATERSHED (Excerpt from Pa. DEP letter below).

Why should Pennsylvania be a dumping ground for the O&G industry, no matter what type of well brine is dumped? Be sure to let your state representatives know how you feel.

UPDATE: Removal of Road-Spreading of Drilling Waste Provision Does Not Make SB790 a Good Bill

BLOG: Fracking is Elevating Radioactivity in the Air, Land and Water

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