Fracking waste is being dumped in New York; legislators want to stop it

The Alt
On Friday, June 9, Senator Brad Hoylman and Assemblyman David Buchwald announced a new environmental conservation bill (S98A, A302A) banning the acceptance of solid and liquid waste from oil and natural gas extraction and fracking sites. While New York state banned the practice of hydraulic fracking back in June 2015, the state currently accepts hundreds and thousands of gallons in fracking waste from Pennsylvania rig sites.
 
Liz Moran, water and natural resources associate at Environmental Advocates of New York, collected data on the extractions from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in February 2015. The study found that the state’s drilling sites sent at least 23,000 barrels of liquid and 460,000 tons of solid fracking waste to New York landfills before Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the statewide ban on fracking a few months later. As of March 2017, the amount of imported waste has increased by 32 percent–reaching a total of 608,646 tons.
 
“As long as fracking is occurring in neighboring states, we need to be as vigilant as possible in New York,” Buchwald said. “In Pennsylvania right now there are 34 fracking drill rigs in operation. Much of that waste is being produced right near New York’s border and statistics show that not only can it come into New York, but it will come into New York. This bill addresses the ways this waste can be disposed of.”
 
Environmental advocates are pushing for the waste to be classified as hazardous and disposed as such. Currently the waste is processed in municipality wastewater treatment centers where it can then be distributed to local water systems.
 
“These facilities are simply not equipped to handle the volumes of the waste or even identify the harmful chemicals in the waste to begin with,” Nadia Steinzor, eastern program coordinator at Earthworks, said.  
 
The waste is known to be harmful to humans, animals and the environment–consistent ofnaturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM) as well as benzene, formaldehyde, ethylene glycol, and xylene. The ability for the waste to even cross the border while New York holds a ban on in-state fracking sites was essentially born of a loophole in the law.
 
Under the New York Code, Rules and Regulations, New York currently lacks regulations regarding the disposal of fracking waste. Part 371.1 (e) (2) (v) states, “The following materials are not hazardous wastes … (v) drilling fluids, produced waters and other wastes associated with the exploration, development or production of crude oil, natural gas or geothermal energy.” Additionally, there is no current regulation that requires landfills to notify the department once they decide to accept the material.
 
“That’s all governed by the fact that facilities where the fracking waste is shipped are owned by private entities,” Steinzor told The Alt. “This waste is toxic and should not be presumed to be benign.”
 
When asked whether New York leaders or environmental groups have reached out the the DEP about putting a stop to this issue, Hoylman told The Alt that while he could not speak for other advocates, the state legislators have only worked with New York’s environmental advocates thus far.
 
According to Steinzor, Pennsylvania-based organizations and DEP officials have had their own long-winded fight in-state when it comes to the oil and coal industry. The Marcellus Shale Coalition, a number of energy companies in the resource heavy Marcellus Shale region, sued the DEP in October 2016 when new regulation was introduced to limit extractions that took place near public resources such as schools, playgrounds and parks. In February, a three year study by the Public Herald, a site dedicated to research and reporting on the DEP and Pennsylvania fracking, the DEP received 9,442 complaints from residents living near drill sites. Water quality complaints clocked in at 4,108 and the other submitted concerns included air quality, spills, property damage, and leaking gas.
 
In the past decade, the Pennsylvania drill rigs have delivered to five landfills in New York: Seneca Meadows Land ll in Waterloo, Hyland Facility Association in Angelica, Casella Waste Systems in Painted Post, and Allied Waste Systems in Niagara Falls–which, from 2010 to June 2015, has collected the most liquid fracking waste at 21,762.58 barrels or 685, 521 gallons. Also accepting waste is Chemung County Land ll in Lowman, which has accepted 323,466.52 tons of waste–over half of all five landfills combined–as of March.
 
According to Moran, Chemung and Hyland have also proposed permit modifications to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to increase the amount of waste that can be accepted annually.
 
The five landfills are located in a wide cluster in southwestern New York. They are more accessible to the Pennsylvania rigs and located in counties that have no regulation concerning the imported waste. Moran says that Ulster, Westchester and 13 other counties around the state have introduced their own ban on accepting fracking waste.
 
The DEC is currently processing revisions to Part 360, their solid waste management regulations addressing fracking waste dumping and processing as well as its use in road spreading–in which the waste is applied as a de-icing agent on New York highways.
 
“Because the waste is a salty, grimy mixture, it has been viewed as an inexpensive way to de-ice our roads but it’s a very risky way,” Buchwald explained. When used on the roads, Moran adds, “The waste moves down to our water table and other water sources.”
 
The final revisions to Part 360 were projected for earlier this year, however they have not yet been released and local advocates and legislators are unclear as to how soon they can be expected. The Alt’s call to the DEC Division of Material Management was not returned.
 
Where the DEC revisions would make sure there is a more watchful eye on the landfill’s acceptance of waste through regulation, the proposed bill would ban the practice altogether. Hoylman and Buchwald have both stressed the importance of applying the use of both Part 360 and the proposed bill.
 
“This needs to be banned, not just regulated,” Hoylman said, explaining that the bill would essentially reinforce the DEC regulations through a clear state policy. “Part 360 is critical but the proposed bill in front of us today is the only way to ensure that they are put into place.”