Friday, May 17, 2019

New Study Tracks Liquid, Solid Waste From Conventional, Unconventional Oil & Gas Development In PA From Generation To Disposal

More than 80 percent of all waste from Pennsylvania's conventional and unconventional oil and gas drilling operations stays inside the state, according to a new study that tracks the disposal locations of liquid and solid waste from these operations from 1991 to 2017 based on information reported to the Department of Environmental Protection.
The study is the first assessment of Pennsylvania's waste-disposal practices, tracking from 1991 - when the state [DER and then DEP] began collecting waste-disposal information - through 2017.
How Much?
Between 1991 and 2017, conventional and unconventional oil and gas development in Pennsylvania generated 398 million barrels of liquid waste [16,716,000,000 gallons], including 57 million barrels [2.39 billion gallons] in 2017 alone.
During the same time period, over 7 million tons of solid waste was generated from conventional and unconventional oil and gas development in Pennsylvania, including over 1 million tons in 2017.
Where Does Liquid Waste Go?
More than half of the liquid waste that remains in Pennsylvania was reused in extraction operations, the study found, a practice that can result in more concentrated levels of salinity and chemical residues with each subsequent use, according to the study.
Researchers note that the pervasiveness of this practice raises questions about how to treat or dispose of these more concentrated waste streams in the future, when drilling operations slow or cease, diminishing the demand for wastewater reuse.
For more than a third of liquid waste from all oil and gas operations - 35 percent - the final location is unknown, often because reporting reflects only intermediary locations for transfer or storage.
Some of the state's liquid waste - 7.6 percent, or 30 million barrels [1.2 billion gallons] over the study's time period - is sent to municipal or other water treatment plants, which discharge into surface waters like rivers after limited treatment, according to the study.
Studies have shown that despite treatment operations, pollution remains in sediment downstream from release sites, according to the study.
For example, radium persists in sediment for many years and strontium, which accumulates in bones of living things, much like calcium, has been found in the shells of riverbed mussels downstream of treatment facilities, according to the study.
Where Does Solid Waste Go?
The over 7 million tons of solid waste generated between 1991 to 2017 mainly went into landfills.
In southwestern Pennsylvania, most solid waste goes to landfills in the county where it was produced, the study also found, while in northern counties along state borders, solid waste generally moves to neighboring states of Ohio and New York.
Solid waste includes cuttings from drilling that can bring naturally occurring radioactive materials including uranium, radium, and thorium, up from the subsurface to the surface, creating the potential for human and environmental exposures to these toxic compounds, according to the study.
Waste From Conventional Drilling
The study is unique because it includes waste from conventional oil and gas development. Conventional drilling operations accounted for nearly one third of all waste, the data showed.
"We know that many of the hazards and risks associated with waste from oil and gas extraction exist for both conventional and unconventional operations," said Lee Ann Hill, lead author for the study at Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy.
Yet, researchers note, legislation passed in 2016 strengthened disposal location tracking for unconventional oil and gas operations, but were not required for conventional operations.
"From a public health perspective, it doesn't really make sense that conventional operators are held to a different standard," Hill said.
Conventional Waste Brine
Road spreading of waste brine from conventional oil and gas drilling operations was first reported as a method for oil and gas wastewater disposal in 1995, said 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.
Road spreading accounted for 1.4 percent of all liquid waste reported 1991 - 2017, according to Hill.
[Note: Scott Perry, DEP Deputy Secretary for Oil and Gas Management, told DEP’s Citizens Advisory Council on January 22 DEP currently has no plans to develop a regulation or permit to authorize the use of brine as a dust suppressant and have not issued any new authorizations since the appeal to the Environmental Hearing Board case was dismissed after DEP agreed to implement a ban on new authorizations in May 2018.
[However, Perry said brine from Seneca Mineral [in Erie] is still being used for de-icing and dust suppression purposes because the brine the company produces from its wells is considered a product-- LS 25-- under the beneficial use provisions of the state Solid Waste Management Act.  
[He said DEP does not require an application for the use but can request the product determination materials and evaluate whether the material metts a product definition.  He added conventional well operators are evaluating that opportunity. From CAC January 22 meeting minutes.
[He said DEP has not noted any environmental impact from the use of brine as a dust suppressant. He added there continues to be significant public interest in those areas that have historically used brine for dust suppressant to continue to use it.
[While there has no official action by DEP, discussions are ongoing with the Crude Oil Development Advisory Council on the issue. The next meeting of the Council is on May 23.
[On March 21, DEP told the members of the Oil and Gas Technical Advisory Board that they plan to included updated requirements covering the spreading of brine on roads in the next draft of the Chapter 78 oil and gas regulations on conventional drilling operations.]
Previous Studies
Previous studies have tracked only subsets of oil and gas waste-disposal data.
For example, many past studies have focused just on waste from high-volume hydraulic fracturing, the process used at scale since 2008 to extract oil and gas from Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale formation.
"Tracking waste across space - the distance and direction it travels and where it ends up - and across time helps us determine who is absorbing the potential health burdens associated with these waste products, both from recent operations and from legacy pollution across the lifetime of the state's oil and gas operations," said Lee Ann Hill, a researcher at Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy (PSE) and lead author of the study, which was published in Science of the Total Environment on April 22.
Oil and gas development produces high-salinity water that can contain strontium and radium - substances classified as known human carcinogens.  
“This study does not directly attempt to measure health impacts, but it quantifies solid and liquid waste produced by oil and gas development in Pennsylvania and tracks where waste travels,” said Hill.  “This spatial component of this study is essential to for future researchers to better estimate human exposures and evaluate potential for health impacts from oil and gas waste.
“The study does reference other peer-reviewed research that identified hazards to human health and the environment associated with oil and gas waste, such as radioactive, carcinogenic, and persistent compounds found in solid and liquid waste from oil and gas development,” added Hill.
The study concludes that a uniform cradle-to-grave reporting system should be put in place to properly assess hazards and risks to human health and the environment posed by waste streams from all types of oil and gas production.
"Understanding where and when waste enters our environment helps scientists and communities quantify human exposures to these contaminants and measure environmental impacts," said Hill.
Click Here for a copy of the study.
(Photo: Shows conventional and unconventional oil and gas waste generation and disposal methods for 2017.)
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