Monday, June 10, 2024

House Hearing: Penn State Expert Says ‘Pennsylvania Should Ban Road Spreading Of Oil & Gas Wastewater;’ Contaminants Exceed Health, Environmental Standards

On June 10, Dr. William Burgos, a Penn State Professor of Environmental Engineering, appeared before the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee to outline the finding of extensive research by Penn State on the environmental and health risks of road dumping.

Based on that research, Dr. Burgos came to this bottom line--

“Pennsylvania should ban road spreading of O&G PW [oil and gas wastewater].” Read more here.

“There is no public benefit to road spreading O&G PWs [oil and gas wastewater]…. It is all risk, no reward. The only beneficiaries are the O&G [oil and gas] operators who choose this disposal option.”  Read more here.

“The ineffectiveness and potential pollution of wastewater spreading make the practice an unsuitable alternative for dust suppression on Pennsylvania roads.”  Read more here.

Dr. Burgos noted DEP has already banned the road dumping of unconventional shale gas drilling wastewater for its environmental and health risks.

He said Penn State’s research found-- “The chemical characteristics of conventional and unconventional oil and gas-produced waters overlap considerably with respect to major constituents as well as [radioactive] radium activity. So there's not a whole lot of difference.”  Read more here.

Penn State studies found the amounts of at least 25 of the chemicals they tested for exceeded environmental and health standards and radioactive radium exceeded industrial waste discharge standards.  Read more here.

Penn State also found from 2008 to 2014, “spreading O&G PW [oil and gas wastewater] on roads released over 4 times more radium to the environment than O&G [oil and gas] wastewater treatment facilities, and 200 times more radium than spill events.” Read more here.

Dr. Burgos pointed to several other contaminants of concern.

“The contaminants of concern include chloride with respect to freshwater salinization, and also impacts on infrastructure as far as corrosivity and other sorts of things. 

“So chloride for stream health and [radioactive] radium and petroleum hydrocarbons primarily for human health. 

“And of course there's, unfortunately, there's lead, arsenic and a couple other trace metals that might be of concern.

“But really from a risk-based standpoint, [radioactive] radium being a known carcinogen. 

“And these petroleum hydrocarbons in produced waters that have elevated petroleum hydrocarbon concentrations, which might be visible to you and I as the oily sheen, these were the ones that had that direct human receptor cell-based response with respect to potentially causing toxicity, maybe even cancer.”

He also pointed out, oil and gas wastewater destabilizes dirt and gravel roads.

“Oil and gas produced waters destabilize roads. So what we saw is that they produce a tremendous amount of dust in the dust generation experiments.

“But we also did these rainfall runoff experiments, and we measured the solids, which we can think of as a proxy for aggregate or dollars of maintenance materials with respect to putting stuff back on your gravel road.”

“And these things led to a greater loss of solids from the roads during this heavy storm event that we used to simulate this stuff, compared to rainwater being spread onto the test cell at the beginning of the experiment.

“Because of these findings, oil and gas produced waters fail to meet the EPA's [US Environmental Protection Agency’s] criteria for beneficial reuse of industrial waste.”

Click Here for a copy of Dr. Burgos’ testimony.

Click Here to watch a video of the hearing.

Hearing Key Takeaways On Road Dumping

Here are a few of the key takeaways from the Committee’s June 10  hearing on road dumping--

-- Water Is Just As Effective: The Penn State Center for Dirt and Gravel Road Studies said studies show plain water is just as effective as oil and gas wastewater at dust suppression, without the negative environmental and health side effects.  What’s cheaper than water?

-- Dirt Road Construction/Maintenance Critical: Putting liquids on roads that dry out in a few hours will not solve the dust problem or do anything to protect residents.  Using proper road construction and maintenance techniques and the right materials will go a long way to significantly reduce dust and improve the traveling surface.  

The Penn State Center for Dirt and Gravel Road Studies has worked on these issues for decades and pioneered the use of techniques and materials that work effectively.  Call them, they can help!

-- Wastewater Dumping Has Moved To Paved Roads: Local citizens report oil and gas wastewater dumping has moved from dirt and gravel roads to paved roads because it’s faster to dump their loads with less evidence they are doing this illegal practice.  With this move, the justification for legalizing this disposal method for dust suppression has also evaporated.  It is simply disposal.

-- Wastewater Dumpers Wait For Rain: Local citizens report wastewater dumpers typically wait until there is rain in the forecast to start dumping to help hide their tracks.  As a result, the pretense the dumpers pay any attention to any guidelines for dumping wastewater also disappears.  It is simply disposal.

-- Filled With Harmful Contaminants: For nearly 30 years, studies have all shown the same thing-- oil and gas wastewater contains many harmful contaminants that exceed health and environmental standards.  Penn State research found 25 contaminants in conventional wastewater exceeded health and environmental standards.

-- Conventional Wastewater Fails Product Testing: The Penn State Center for Dirt and Gravel Road Studies reported conventional oil and gas wastewater fails to meet its environmental testing standards, including for sodium, chloride and radioactive radium.  Radioactive radium levels varied from 84 to 2,500 pCi/L, far above the 15 pCi/L standard.

-- Little Difference Between Conventional And Shale Gas Wastewater: Penn State reported there is very little difference between conventional and unconventional oil and gas wastewater, except the road dumping of unconventional shale gas wastewater was banned by DEP in 2016 regulations.

Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware) serves as Majority Chair of the House Environmental Committee and can be contacted by calling 717-787-7647 or sending email to: Rep. Martin Causer (R-Cameron) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-787-5075 or by sending email to:

(Photos: Part of the Penn State research team, Dr. Burgos on left.)


-- PA Environmental Council Supports Bill To Ban Road Dumping Oil & Gas Wastewater  [PaEN]

-- The Center Square - Anthony Hennen: Road Dumping Oil & Gas Wastewater For Dust Suppression Called Into Question

House Action/Hearing On Road Dumping:

-- House Committee Reports Out Bills To Ban Road Dumping Conventional Oil & Gas Wastewater; Prohibit Use Of PFAS 'Forever Chemicals’ In Consumer Products  [PaEN]

-- House Hearing: Shapiro Administration Supports Bill Banning Road Dumping Oil & Gas Wastewater, Prohibiting Its Use As Coproduct Under Residual Waste Regulations  [PaEN] 

-- House Hearing: Penn State Expert Says ‘Pennsylvania Should Ban Road Spreading Of Oil & Gas Wastewater;’  Contaminants Exceed Health, Environmental Standards  [PaEN] 

-- House Hearing: Penn State Center For Dirt & Gravel Road Studies Says Road Spreading Oil & Gas Wastewater Is Not An Effective Dust Suppressant, Does Not Meet Environmental Testing Standards  [PaEN] 

-- House Hearing: A First-Hand Account Of How Repeated, Unlimited Road Dumping Of Oil & Gas Drilling Wastewater Is Tearing Apart Dirt Roads And Creating Multiple Environmental Hazards  [PaEN]

-- House Hearing: Protect PT - Road Dumping Oil & Gas Wastewater ‘Is Disproportionately Responsible For Negative Impacts On Human Health,’ Especially From Radioactive Radium  [PaEN]  

-- House Hearing: On Road Dumping Oil & Gas Wastewater - ‘We Studied This For Nearly 30 Years And The Conclusions Are The Same - The Wastewater Contains Harmful Contaminants’  [PaEN]  

-- House Hearing: PA State Assn. Of Township Supervisors Opposes Ban On Road Dumping Conventional Oil & Gas Wastewater Saying It’s Only Affordable Option For Dust Suppression [Plain Water Works Just As Well]  [PaEN] 

-- House Hearing: Conventional Oil & Gas Industry Trade Groups Oppose Bill Banning The Road Dumping Their Wastewater Saying It’s ‘Effective And Safe’  [PaEN] 

Road Dumping Intimidation:

-- Week 10: Illegal Dumping Of Conventional Oil & Gas Wastewater Continues Unabated On Paved, Dirt Roads, Before It Rains, It Doesn’t Matter In Warren County  [PaEN - 5.30.24]   

-- Illegal Wastewater Dumping Continues, Even On Mothers Day, Conventional Oil & Gas Well Owners’ Campaign Of Intimidation Of Senate Witness; Now Dumping Before It Rains, On Paved Roads [PaEN - 5.14.24] 

-- Two Months: Road Dumping Conventional Oil & Gas Wastewater Continues To Surround The Home Of A Senate Witness Who Opposes The Illegal Practice  [PaEN - 5.7.24]

-- Road Dumping Continues At Will As Conventional Oil & Gas Well Owners Get Rid Of Their Wastewater  [PaEN - 4.5.24]

-- Spring Road Dumping Season Underway As Conventional Oil & Gas Operators Get Rid Of Their Wastewater   [PaEN - 3.19.24] 

Resource Links - Senate Hearing On Road Dumping:

-- Senate Hearing: The Case For An Immediate, Total Ban On Road Dumping Conventional Oil & Gas Wastewater  [PaEN]

-- Senate Hearing: Penn State Expert: ‘No More Research That Needs To Be Done’ To Justify A Ban On Road Dumping Conventional Oil & Gas Wastewater  [PaEN] 

-- Senate Hearing: First-Hand Account Of Health, Environmental Impacts From Road Dumping Conventional Oil & Gas Wastewater - ‘Inhaling Oil & Gas Wastewater 24-Hours A Day’  [PaEN]

-- Senate Hearing: 3.5 Million Gallons Of Conventional Oil & Gas Wastewater Dumped On PA Public Roads Since DEP’s ‘Moratorium’ On Dumping Started 6 Years Ago  [PaEN] 

-- Senate Hearing: DEP Still Evaluating The Data On Road Dumping Conventional Oil & Gas Wastewater; Asks Public To Report Road Dumping  [PaEN]

-- Do You Live In An Oil & Gas Wastewater Disposal Facility? Public Roads In 84 Municipalities In PA, One County In NY Are Being Used As Disposal Areas For Wastewater  [PaEN]

-- DEP: 86% Of Conventional Oil & Gas Well Owners Did Not Comply With Waste Disposal, Production Reporting For 33,505 Wells In 2023  [PaEN - 3.29.24]

[Posted: June 10, 2024]  PA Environment Digest

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