Friday, October 8, 2021

17 Conventional Oil & Gas Drilling Operators Under Review By DEP To Determine If They Comply With Program Allowing Road Dumping Of Drilling Wastewater

The Department of Environmental Protection is now reviewing 17 conventional oil and gas drilling operators for their compliance with a self-certification program that allows the road dumping of drilling wastewater, according to Ali Tarquino Morris, Director of  DEP’s Bureau Of Waste Management.

In response to issues being raised about the spreading of wastewater from conventional drilling operations on dirt and gravel roads, the Bureau of Waste Management has undertaken a review of whether these operators meet the requirements of the Coproduct Determination Program under Chapter 287.8 of DEP’s regulations.

Unconventional (shale) oil and gas drilling companies are prohibited by DEP’s regulations from disposing of their drilling wastewater on dirt and gravel roads, even though conventional wastewater is very similar and comes from the same source-- deep underground rock formations.  

And, as a result of a 2018 Environmental Hearing Board settlement, DEP’s Oil and Gas Program cannot give its approval to road dumping of drilling wastewater.  Read more here.

From 1991 to 2017 over 240.4 million gallons of conventional drilling wastewater was dumped on dirt and gravel roads-- over 235.4 million gallons in Pennsylvania alone.  Read more here.

The coproduct process in DEP’s residual waste regulations potentially allows the road application of oil and gas drilling wastewater through a separate process.

Coproduct Determinations are a self-certification process that allows anyone generating a waste to make a determination if that waste material has the same physical and chemical characteristics as an intentionally manufactured product or raw material.

If they can prove it does and that the use of the material presents no greater threat of harm to human health and the environment than the use of an intentionally produced product, it is no longer considered a waste and can be used in place of that product.

No pre-use notification is required to DEP or DEP’s approval, but DEP can request the self-certification evaluations required in the regulations from the operators, which they did for the 17 conventional oil and gas drilling operators under review.  

DEP was aware of the operators because they are required to report how they dispose of their drilling waste to DEP’s Oil and Gas Program through the “OGRE” data system.  These conventional drilling operators reported disposing of their drilling wastewater through road dumping.

“The regulations require an evaluation of the total levels of hazardous or toxic constituents [as defined in federal regulations] and whether the total levels of these constituents contained in the proposed Coproduct exceed the total levels of the same constituents found in the intentionally manufactured product,” said Morris.

“They must identify the routes of exposure to humans and ecological receptors on those routes of exposure [which] must include ingestion, inhalation, dermal contact, leaching to groundwater, plant uptake and surface runoff potential,” explained Morris.

“They perform that evaluation again to see if everything is statistically and consistently equivalent to this produced product or raw material they want to replace with waste,” said Morris.

Under the Coproduct Program, operators must give their Coproduct documentation to anyone they give their coproduct to for use.

Operators are not required to keep records of where their wastewater is being road dumped as a coproduct.

DEP’s compliance review consists of reviewing the self-determination documents to see if all the required evaluations were completed on the commercial product and the waste, identifying any information that is missing or incomplete and requiring that information to be submitted and then determining whether they meet the requirements of Chapter 287.8.

Morris said they are not yet at the point where any determinations have been made on whether the operators have and haven’t met the requirements.

“[The reviews are] a priority for DEP,” said Morris.  “Seventeen operators sounds like a lot, but many of their submissions contain virtually the same information.”

“We definitely had training on how to look for [intentional duplicate evaluation submissions],” said Morris.  “Many of them use the same types of commercial products for their comparison [and] we’re familiar with that body of data.”

Morris said most of the Coproduct evaluations use a commercial brine product she said is taken from wells drilled specifically into underground rock formations for the brine, but they are not associated with oil and gas drilling.

In fact, none of the commercial products DEP has seen from conventional operators in the comparisons so far involve oil and gas produced wastewaters treated to remove contaminants.

Commercial products that may be used for comparison for a coproduct determination, according to DEP, include products that are mixed by the end user to combine salt-- usually sodium chloride, calcium chloride or magnesium chloride-- and water, or ready to use liquid products such as salt brine LS-25, and LiquidOW.

[Note: LS-25 is distributed by Seneca Mineral located in Erie County.  A company product sheet says, “Our salt brine is a ‘naturally occurring brine’ that is pumped from the ground, to our storage tanks and then delivered directly to our customers.”

[According to the Material Safety Data Sheet, it is an eye and skin irritant and is an ingestion hazard and can corrode aluminum.

[LiquidOW is produced by the Occidental Chemical Corporation.  A company product sheet says it is a purified inorganic salt solution produced by removing water from a ‘naturally occurring brine solution.’ Unlike other processes used to produce calcium chloride, the brine process does not involve reactions with toxic chemicals such as hydrochloric acid or ammonia.”

[According to a Material Safety Data Sheet-- “This material is considered hazardous by the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard (29 CFR 1910.1200).”  It is an eye and skin irritant and is an ingestion hazard.]

“We are going to evaluate it thoroughly for all 17 operators, and at the end of the day if someone doesn’t have a valid Coproduct demonstration that meets all of our regulatory requirements, that person may be improperly using or disposing of waste, and the department would act appropriately,” said Morris.

New Information

Morris was asked about a growing body of new information available analyzing drilling wastewater, including a recent study by Penn State that found drilling wastewater was up to three times less effective at dust suppression when compared to commercial products.  Read more here.

The study also included references to dozens of other studies of drilling wastewater that raised concerns about the potential of the wastewater to cause water pollution and human health impacts.  Read more here.

Another study on the environmental impact of road dumping of drilling wastewater paid for by DEP’s Oil and Gas Program is due from Penn State in December.  Read more here.

The Penn State Center for Dirt and Gravel Road considers the use of conventional drilling wastewater on dirt and gravel roads an environmentally unsound practice.  Read more here.

Staff from DEP’s Bureau of Radiation Protection last week told a Senate Committee-- “The potential environmental impact from spills or leaks of TENORM [naturally occurring radiation] contaminated material [from oil and gas drilling operations] is real.”  Read more here.

David Allard, Director of DEP’s Bureau of Radiation Protection, will be giving DEP’s Citizens Advisory Council an overview of Pennsylvania’s involvement in radiation decontamination and decommissioning of a variety of facilities, including oil and gas wastewater treatment facilities, on October 19.  Read more here.

“I think it’s fair to say that the Coproduct provisions and the residual waste regulations predate a lot of the oil and gas activity in Pennsylvania,” said Morris.  “So there’s some things about the Coproduct determination that maybe aren’t an ideal fit.” 

“I think we have evaluated various waste streams derived from the oil and gas industry,” said Morris.  “I came to the central office [of DEP] in 2012 and worked on TENORM issues [naturally occurring radiation in oil and gas drilling wastes] that eventually culminated in the TENORM disposal protocol in Pennsylvania.”  Read more here.

“We [the Waste Program] haven’t contracted with anyone like Penn State to do a study, [but] we’ve crunched some information that we get reported to the Waste Program about chemical composition of oil and gas wastes,” said Morris.  “That’s not the easiest thing to do because the mechanism by which it’s reported to DEP.”

She explained they have done “exercises” with Form U reports on solid waste going to landfills to identify trends and the chemical signatures of certain waste streams and Form 26R reports on liquid and solid wastes that covers the chemical and physical characteristics of oil and gas waste, including liquid wastewater.

Morris said DEP has not yet cross-checked the Form 26R chemical analysis with the information conventional drilling operators submitted as part of their Coproduct determinations to see if it matches because their data systems are “a little bit cumbersome.”

Hazardous Waste Exemption

On October 4, more than 65 environmental groups from across the United States appealed to the Biden Administration to protect the public from toxic and radioactive materials that are present in oil and gas waste. 

With the exponential increase of fracking and the improved science on the waste stream, the groups are demanding both reclassification of waste since it was initially classified in 1988, and the adequate testing of the waste that contains radioactive material from deep underground.  Read more here.

On September 30, a Senate Committee heard testimony on the environmental and health dangers associated with oil and gas drilling waste in Pennsylvania and removed the exemption in state law that would remove the oil and gas industry exemption to comply with the state Solid Waste Management Act.  Read more here.

Analysis - Coproduct Policy Loop

It’s fair to say the Coproduct Determination process adopted in Chapter 287.8 of DEP’s regulations in 2001 never contemplated a situation where a commercial product being compared to a waste may have chemical, naturally occurring radiation (TENORM)  and other characteristics that harm the environment and public health.

The recent study by Penn State and the dozens of studies it refers to are part of a growing body of information that point to the fact that drilling wastewater has harmful chemical and other characteristics, including naturally-occurring radiation, that are potentially harmful to public health and the environment.  

DEP acknowledged as much in a Senate Committee hearing last week.  Read more here.

And, DEP will provide an overview of the oil and gas wastewater treatment facilities that require radiation decontamination at the Citizens Advisory Council meeting on October 19.  Read more here.

It follows then that “commercial products” that come from the same source-- rock formations deep underground with the same chemical characteristics-- can also be harmful to public health and the environment.

The Coproduct Determinations are essentially documenting that fact in detail.

Conventional oil and gas wastewater is frequently called “ancient ocean water” by the industry.  The term is also used by some who sell commercial products made from intentionally procured brines and treated drilling wastewater..

Arthur Stewart of Cameron Energy, a conventional oil and gas driller, told the Warren Times Observer, “We are tapping oil found in sandstone formations-- the sandstone layers are ancient ocean beaches.  Because the sandstone formations are old beaches, there is also trapped therein old ocean water.”  Read more here.

Dr. John Stolz, Director of the Center for Environmental Research and Education at Duquesne University, told a Senate Committee September 30, "When I hear it being called brine or I hear it being called ancient seawater, yes, these things formed at the bottom of an ancient sea, but the fact is is that this water, or this fluid that's coming back up and has to be disposed of has taken a lot of the stuff from the rocks that it's been sitting in for millions of years."

He continued, "We now have the data, we now have the science, it's been my group, the Penn State group, any number of groups, have done the chemistry and we know this stuff is toxic."  Read more here.

As Morris pointed out, commercial products used as a comparison in the Coproduct Determination Program for conventional drilling wastewater come from underground rock formations, but they are just not associated with oil and gas drilling.

The policy question becomes not is something a waste under DEP’s Chapter 287, but the more relevant question of-- what if the commercial product we’re comparing a waste to in the Coproduct Program is, itself, potentially harmful to the environment and public health?

Arthur Steward of Cameron Energy recently raised this very issue in comments to the Warren Times Observer.

He pointed to the commercial dust suppressant MC-70 that is frequently used on dirt roads that he said is “mostly kerosene.”

“So we’re complaining about using an oil and gas product in the form of free salt water,” he said, instead of a product-- MC-70-- that is a fossil-fuel based product.  Read more here.

The Penn State study released this year comparing the efficacy of using drilling wastewaters also pointed out using the alternatives may have an impact on human health and could leach contaminants into nearby waterways during storm events, but those characteristics were not examined in their study.  Read more here.

Policy Dilemma

So the policy question is-- what do we do now when the Coproduct Determination Program regulations potentially trap DEP in a loop that justifies road spreading of conventional drilling wastewater by comparing it to a “commercial product” literally from similar sources and with the same characteristics that make both of them potentially hazardous to the environment and public health?

Good question!

For more information, visit DEP’s Coproduct Determination Program webpage.

(Written By: David Hess, former DEP Secretary.  Send comments to: )


-- News5 Cleveland: Ohio Plans To Stop Using Deicer AquaSalina Made From Oil & Gas Drilling Wastewater

-- Environmental Health News: Should Oil & Gas Companies Be Exempt From PA’s Hazardous Waste Laws?

Related Articles This Week:

-- DEP Citizens Advisory Council Meets Oct. 19 To Hear Report On Radiation Decontamination Of Oil & Gas Wastewater Treatment Facilities, Reactors, Waste Sites 

-- 65+ Groups Ask Biden Administration To Reclassify Oil & Gas Drilling Waste As 'Hazardous' To Prevent Road Dumping Of Wastewater And Other Practices 

-- 80 Organizations, 1,800+ Concerned Citizens To DEP: Ban Road Dumping Of Drilling Wastewater; Dept. Of Health Unaware Road Dumping Is Occurring

-- AG Shapiro: Charges Mariner East Pipeline With 48 Counts Of Environmental Crimes In 11 Counties 

-- Sen. Comitta: Calls For Halt To Mariner East Pipeline Construction In Light Of Criminal Charges By Attorney General 

-- PA Consumer Advocate: Heating With Natural Gas Will Cost Residential Consumers About 20% More This Winter; No Impact On PA Consumers Of PennEast Pipeline Cancellation 

-- PA Supreme Court: Agrees To Hear Challenge To Ruling Denying Environmental Groups Attorney's Fees In Successful Appeal Of Energy Transfer/Sunoco Mariner East Pipeline Permit  

Related Articles:

-- DEP: Potential For Environmental Impacts From Spills Or Leaks Of Radioactive Oil & Gas Waste Materials Is Real; Health Dept. Not Aware Of All Chemicals In Oil & Gas Wastewater Making Risk Assessment Difficult

-- 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
-- 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

-- More Than 60 Environmental Groups, Green Party Of PA Oppose Road Dumping Of Oil & Gas Drilling Wastewater On Rural PA Roads

-- 81 Groups, 3,342 Individuals Express Opposition To Bill Legalizing Road Dumping Of Conventional Drilling Wastewater

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

-- 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

-- Earthworks’ New Report, Interactive Map Tracks Disposal Of 380 Million Barrels Of PA Oil & Gas Drilling Wastewater, Including Road Dumping

-- Op-Ed: Why Is the General Assembly About To Hurt Us By Authorizing Road Dumping Of Oil & Gas Wastewater?

-- Op-Ed: Will Our Dirt Roads Again Be Used As Dumping Sites For Oil & Gas Well Wastewater

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

-- Senate Democrats, AG Shapiro Announce Legislation To Address Issues Raised In Grand Jury Report On Natural Gas Fracking

[Posted: October 8, 2021]  PA Environment Digest

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