Fracking waste prevents icy roads, but pollutes waterways

CC BY 2.0 Flickr user Nicholas A. Tonelli

Wastewater from hydrofracking is being used to de-ice roads across New York State, but the environmental organization Riverkeeper warns this practice is a threat to waterways. In addition to a salty mix of minerals, the tracking "brine" can also contain harmful substances.

Riverkeeper Scientist Bill Wegner tells Capital New York that nine counties in New York have banned the use of Fracking brine:

“The biggest concern is the carcinogens; you don't want that to get into drinking water supplies,” Wegner said.

Production brine largely comes from some of the 6,000 low-volume gas wells currently allowed in New York as well as some in Pennsylvania, and is used for de-icing, dust control and road stabilization. The fluid can pollute rivers, streams and aquifers if not controlled properly, and it contains high levels of chloride, benzene and toluene, all of which can cause health problems in humans, Wegner said. It can also contain naturally-occurring radioactive materials. And while chloride is contained in the road salt commonly used across the country, it is far more concentrated in fracking waste.

Wastewater produced by hydrofracking enjoys exemption from the Federal regulations that usually apply to hazardous wastes. This also extends to the distilled by-products, a spokesperson for the Environmental Protection Agency told the New York Times:
"Currently, wastewaters associated from exploration and production of natural gas are exempt from federal hazardous waste regulatory requirements under [the Resource Conservation and Recover Act]. These wastewaters are regulated under state waste management programs. The federal exemption extends to salts derived from these wastewaters."

In order to use brine, municipalities in New York must ask for permission from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Through a Freedom of Information Request, Riverkeeper obtained the permits of counties in New York State that permit the use of fracking brine on roads. Their report shows that 13 municipalities have received permission to use brine from natural gas production.

In a report assessing Fracking wastewater management, the National Resources Defense Council writes:

"Selling wastewater to local governments for this use allows gas operators to recover some of their treatment and management costs, but applying wastewater onto land surfaces increases the risk that pollutants will be washed into nearby water bodies or leach in to groundwater."

New York State Senator Terry Gipson told WAMC he hopes the state will ban the use of fracking waste as a de-icer altogether:

“We have a bill in committee right now that would ban the use of fracking wastewater as a de-icer in New York State, and we hope that my colleagues will see that this activity actually is occurring here in New York State,” Gipson said.

Fracking waste prevents icy roads, but pollutes waterways
Environmental group Riverkeeper finds the practice is more common in New York than previously believed.

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