– Further review shows that road spreading of natural gas production brine has been approved for use in portions of at least 23 municipalities in 7 western New York counties: Wyoming, Erie, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Genessee, Niagara, and Seneca. Road spreading of natural gas brine from natural gas storage has been approved in at least 10 municipalities in 2 western New York Counties: Allegany and Steuben. In addition, the New York State Department of Transportation Region 6 received approval to spread what appears to be brine from natural gas storage on state roads in portions of Steuben, Allegany, Chemung, Schuyler, and Yates Counties.
Even though the de facto moratorium on high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing in New York State continues, the disposal of waste from hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations is occurring in New York now and deserves our attention. The extraction of natural gas using fracking produces large amounts of liquid and solid waste that can contain a number of harmful pollutants, including salts (sometimes expressed as total dissolved solids or TDS); chemical additives, which may include ethylene glycol, naphthalene, and sulfuric acid; metals; organic compounds; and other contaminants. Fracking waste from extraction activities in the Marcellus Shale can also contain naturally-occurring radioactive materials (NORMs) such as radium-226 and radium-228.
In July 2013, Riverkeeper wrote to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) and requested information about one method of handling fracking waste that New York is currently allowing: the use of production brine from conventional, low-volume fracking on New York roads for de-icing, dust control, and road stabilization. Specifically, we asked the agency to provide information regarding its approvals – known as Beneficial Use Determinations or BUDs – of the use of natural gas production brine for road spreading from June 2011 to July 2013.
In its response, NYSDEC indicated that its records did not differentiate between brine from different well types: “The records may reflect brine originating from oil extraction wells as well as natural gas extraction wells.” As a result, even though we only requested information regarding natural gas production brine BUDs, we received BUDs from other sources as well. In all we received copies of nearly 30 BUDs and modifications, 18 of which approve the for use of natural gas brine for road spreading purpose. Of the 18 natural gas brine BUDs, 11 appear to authorize road spreading of brine from natural gas storage facilities, while 7 authorize road spreading of production brine from natural gas wells. Of the remaining approved BUDs, 1 indicated that the brine was from oil wells, while the type of brine for the balance was not identified.
The results were concerning. The natural gas well brine BUDs indicated that the road spreading of natural gas production brine has been approved in at least 23 municipalities in 7 western New York counties: Wyoming, Erie, Cattaraugus, Chautaugua, Genessee, Niagara, and Seneca. Road spreading of natural gas brine from natural gas storage has been approved in at least 10 municipalities in 2 western New York counties: Allegany and Steuben. In addition, the New York State Department of Transportation Region 6 received approval to spread what appears to be brine from natural gas storage on state roads in portions of Steuben, Allegany, Chemung, Schuyler, and Yates Counties.
Riverkeeper also received testing information that was submitted with requests for the BUDs. A review of these brine testing results from both natural gas production brine and brine from natural gas storage facilities showed extremely high levels of chloride. Chloride can corrode infrastructure and negatively affect aquatic life and vegetation. In addition, results submitted with requests for BUDs for brine from natural gas storage facilities revealed the presence of benzene and toluene. Benzene is a carcinogen and has been linked to blood disorders such as anemia, while toluene has been linked to nervous system, kidney, and liver problems.
In addition to road spreading, we are concerned about disposal of fracking waste at New York landfills and wastewater treatment facilities that are unequipped to handle it. At least 10 New York counties share those concerns and have passed legislative bans on the improper re-use and/or disposal of fracking waste. For information on the types of fracking waste disposed of in New York, documents we received from NYSDEC, counties that have passed fracking waste bans, and resources for information on fracking waste, please visit our new web resource: The Facts about New York and Fracking Waste.
Misti Duvall began her legal career as an intern with Riverkeeper in 2004, and returned to the organization as a Staff Attorney with the Watershed Program in January 2013. Prior to joining the watershed team Misti was a Senior Staff Associate with the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, where she worked with state, local, and federal agencies implementing the Clean Air Act. Misti holds a J.D. from Columbia Law School, where she was a Teaching Assistant in the Environmental Law Clinic and an Articles Editor for the Columbia Journal of Environmental Law, and a B.A. in Psychology and Sociology from the University of Tennessee.