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Source: The Journal News

State must treat hazardous fracking waste as such


Posted: June 13, 2011
Originally Published: June 10, 2011

It's really quite simple: New York needs to treat hazardous waste as hazardous.

When energy companies engage in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, they drill thousands of feet under the ground and inject millions of gallons of water combined with toxic chemicals at extremely high pressures into rock below. The wastewater that comes back up to the surface could be hazardous. When fracking waste is hazardous, it should be treated as such.

To reflect the reality of properly handling fracking waste, the Legislature must update the current law that falsely assumes fracking waste is suitable for our municipal landfills and wastewater treatment facilities.

Currently, New York law does not recognize this serious fact. That grave omission could prove to be devastating to our water bodies across the state. Nonhazardous waste can be discharged into our streams, lakes and other waterways, or it could be sent to sewage treatment facilities (STPs), which are designed to treat wastewater but not toxics. STPs then discharge wastewater into a designated water body.

Toxic chemicals used in fracking are transported in tanker trucks with manifests that detail the toxic and hazardous nature of the truck's contents. However, once used by the gas industry, those same chemicals are currently not considered hazardous or toxic when they resurface in fracking wastewater. The hazardous waste loophole threatens municipal landfills and public sewage treatment plants because our infrastructure was never intended to address or treat hazardous waste.

To make matters worse, fracking fluids pick up additional contaminants from deep in the Earth. For example, naturally occurring radioactive materials, or NORMs, are contained within the Marcellus Shale and give this formation a radioactive characteristic. Another harmful byproduct of this process is high levels of salt, producing a liquid brine waste that can be five times saltier than sea water. Our streams, rivers, lakes and municipal sewer systems can neither handle nor are they prepared to treat for this type of waste.
The state Senate and Assembly can close this dangerous hazardous waste loophole by enacting simple legislation, A.7013/S. 4616, which requires materials that meet the existing definition of hazardous waste under New York State law to be treated as hazardous waste. The Legislature must pass this before the end of this legislative session.

So why is it important to do this now? The answers are compelling. Recently, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration leaked a memo indicating that the state Department of Environmental Conservation was required to submit the revised environmental study needed to advance fracking in New York to the governor by July 1.

Also, active drilling sites in other states are currently producing fracking waste and are aggressively seeking opportunities to dispose of fracking waste wherever they can. New York's wastewater treatment plants and municipal landfills have been identified as viable options and some have already accepted fracking waste.

New York is currently facing a $36.2 billion wastewater infrastructure deficit over the next 20 years. Adding hazardous and toxic waste to our already overtaxed and sometimes failing wastewater and drinking water treatment facilities will exacerbate an overtaxed system and will not provide any substantive level of treatment. If New York is serious about protecting our precious and vulnerable water and land resources, the state needs to close the hazardous waste loophole now.

Closing the hazardous waste loophole is simple and common sense legislation that will help protect New York's water and land resources, as well as protect public health. CCE urges the Legislature to enact A.7013/S. 4616 this session.

The writer is executive director, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, which has six regional offices in Connecticut and New York, including in White Plains.