DEP Fails To Address Loophole That Continues To Allow Road Dumping Of Conventional Drilling Wastewater; Members Of Public Register Their Opposition To All Road Dumping

However, what DEP staff did not address or mention was another office in DEP– DEP’s Bureau of Waste Management– allows the road dumping of conventional oil and gas drilling wastewater as a dust suppressant under its co-product regulations and road dumping continues under that loophole unabated.

Several members of the public presented comments to the Board opposing any road dumping of conventional drilling wastewater during the public comment portion of the Board meeting.

Conventional drilling companies continue to dump their wastewater on dirt and gravel roads under the co-product regulations by self-certifying their wastewater is just as effective as a commercial product in reducing dust.

It was recently reported DEP staff had requested some self-certifications for review, since they are not sent to or reviewed by DEP before road dumping starts.  Read more here.

However, a new study by Penn State researchers reported drilling wastewater is at least  THREE times LESS effective than commercial alternatives at controlling dust.  Read more here.

In addition, Penn State’s Center for Dirt and Gravel Road Studies called the use of drilling wastewater an “environmentally unsound practice” and does not approve of its use on dirt and gravel road projects funded by the state.  Read more here.

From 1991 to 2017 over 240.4 million gallons of conventional drilling wastewater was dumped on dirt and gravel roads in Pennsylvania, and as noted, the practice continues under the co-product regulations.  Read more here.

In 2016, DEP banned the road dumping of wastewater from unconventional– shale gas– drilling operations in its regulations.

Regulations now being developed by DEP to set environmental standards for conventional oil and gas drilling do not yet address the road dumping of wastewater from conventional operations.

“Obviously we [DEP] had authorized the use of untreated oil and gas conventional [drilling wastewater] brines through a policy, and ultimately determined that was not the appropriate legal mechanism to allow the use of brines,” said Scott Perry, DEP Deputy for Oil and Gas Management.  “As part of our rulemaking processes [in 2016], we banned the use of unconventional wastewater for these beneficial uses [on dirt and gravel roads].”

He noted the change was “brought about through litigation” against DEP.  Read more here.

“Wastewater management for the conventional industry is really probably the most important environmental issue they may face, and as part of our involvement with the [DCED]  Crude Oil Development Advisory Council, we entered into a contract with Penn State to study what the effects of the use of conventional brines might be on the environment,” said Perry.

“So we’ll obviously have to consider the totality of all the information that’s available to determine whether or not it is appropriate to develop a regulation for a beneficial use permit to use oil and gas brines at all,” said Perry.

“But any authorization to utilize brine– were it to occur at all– would have to go through a lengthy public participation process,” explained Perry.  “So we’ll continue to keep people informed as to the results of the study and any findings that we ultimately conclude.”

Perry did not comment on or mention the current co-product loophole that continues to allow the road dumping of conventional drilling wastewater across the state through DEP’s Waste Management Program.

There was a suggestion by an Advisory Board member to invite the lead Penn State researcher to the next meeting to explain the results of their study.

The next meeting of the Advisory Board is tentatively set for December 8.

Public Comments Opposing Road Dumping

Several members of the public made statements during the public comment period at the Advisory Board meeting opposing any road dumping of conventional drilling wastewater.

“The fact is, we don’t need another study. There is ample evidence that road spreading of drilling waste is dangerous to the environment and human health,” said Karen Feridun, founder of Berks Gas Truth and Co-founder of the Better Path Coalition.  “Nevertheless, more research is never a bad thing when it helps us deepen our understanding, but this ain’t that. Shopping for data to support a decision DEP has already made is something else entirely.

“But the ongoing distinction between conventional and unconventional drilling is an artificial one in the first place. 

“This is from PIOGA’s [PA Independent Oil and Gas Association] website. “A traditional, conventional well is usually drilled into a sandstone formation that can range from as shallow as 1,500 feet to as much as 21,000 feet deep. Oil and gas are able to pass through these formations without hydraulic fracturing, but nearly all wells are stimulated through fracturing to improve production.”

“There is a ban on road spreading of fracking waste. That ban should apply to the spreading of conventional waste, not just unconventional waste. 

“And, incidentally, extending the ban would close the preposterous loophole of coproduct self-determination that makes the current moratorium pointless anyway.”

“I know some people on the Board and they’ve been gracious enough to come to Washington County and see where myself and my family and my community live,” said Lois Bower-Bjornson.  “I can’t stress enough how letting the brine spread on the road is just so harmful for families like mine, children like mine. 

“We live really close to the road, as others do in rural communities. And, you know, this has spread all over the roads just the toxic chemicals, the radioactive waste that come from it couldn’t be more harmful to communities,” said Bower-Bjornson.

“I live in Washington County where so much Marcellus Shale Development is occurring. I pray our health has not been sacrificed,” said Cathy Lodge.  “We live a half a mile off a road that could receive brine treatment for deicing and we rely on well water as our only source of fresh water. We are surrounded by larger farms; brine spread on the road could come to fields and water supplies as runoff.

“It is my opinion that brine spreading serves only one purpose, to rid the industry of a waste stream they generated by pushing it off the roads… the public’s roads, literally,” said Lodge.  “When regulators and legislatures join forces to establish bad policies, what hope can the public have that it will at least be informed of and educated about the dangers? 

“Where are the public meetings on this? Avoid tweaking the regulations that exclude public participation. Better rule-making would protect the public and the environment.”

 “As part of our advocacy and conservation efforts, we have been taking soil samples for several months to test different areas for elevated levels of radiation, specifically Radium-226,” said James Cato, Mountain Watershed Association.  “I can attest that we have seen very high readings. In some cases, over three times the expected baseline in our locations, especially near fracking waste dispensaries and landfills and by unconventional fracking well operations. 

“I just want to say from that experience, it seems evident to me that environmental standards protection and investigation into the health impacts of these industries is necessary, and that we should avoid any policies such as road spreading that will certainly exacerbate the hazard.”

“I just wanted to say we work with DEP, you give us groundwater data that has been given to the department in PDF form and we’ve been putting it into big data sets, and so we’ve been looking at groundwater chemistry all over the state, and we’ve also looked at surface water chemistry all over the state,” said Dr. Susan Brantley, Penn State Earth & Environmental Systems Institute and an advisor to DEP on the Oil and Gas Advisory Board.  “I personally think it’s truly a bad idea to use these brines, by spreading them on roads. I think that’s a really bad idea.”

“We’ve never seen evidence in the groundwater data that we can tie to where we know there has been road spreading. But what we see over and over again, and what other people see, is de-icing, and all the salt that we, humans, put out to make our roads safe.”

[Note: conventional drilling wastewater has tens of thousands of parts per million of chlorides– salt– according to the Penn State Center for Dirt and Gravel Road Studies.  The secondary drinking water standard for chlorides is 250 ppm.  Read more here.]

For more information and available handouts, visit DEP’s Oil and Gas Technical Advisory Board webpage.  Contact: Todd Wallace, [email protected]  or 717-783-6395.

Related Articles:

Groups Gathering Support For Letter Urging DEP, Gov. Wolf, AG Shapiro To Support A Total Ban On Road Dumping Of Oil & Gas Drilling Wastewater; 240.4 Million Gallons Of Conventional Drilling Wastewater Dumped On PA Roads

DEP To Propose Regulations Allowing Road Dumping Of Conventional Drilling Wastewater Across PA

New Penn State Study Shows Road Dumping Oil & Gas Drilling Wastewater Has Little Dust Suppression Benefit, Contains Pollutants Harmful To Human Health, Agriculture, Aquatic Life

Penn State Center For Dirt & Gravel Road Studies: Road Dumping Of Oil & Gas Wastewater To Control Dust Is Environmentally Unsound Practice

New Study Tracks Liquid, Solid Waste From Conventional, Unconventional Oil & Gas Development In PA From Generation To Disposal; 240.4 Million Gallons Of Conventional Wastewater Dumped On PA Roads

Road Dumping Of Oil & Gas Well Wastewater Is Happening Now In Crawford, Erie, Warren Counties As House Prepares To Take Up Bill This Week To Make It Legal

Dangers Posed By Oil & Gas Drilling Wastes, Abandoned Wells + Siri Lawson’s Story From Warren County

House Republicans Pass Bill Legalizing Road Dumping Of Conventional Oil & Gas Well Wastewater, Rolling Back Environmental Protection Standards

[Posted: September 9, 2021]  PA Environment Digest

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