Hazardous waste loophole


Closing the Hazardous Waste Loophole

A.2655 (Englebright, et al.)/S.3392 (May, et al.)

In New York State the oil and gas industry is exempt from hazardous waste transportation and disposal laws by definition. Even though a great deal of the wastewater and drill cuttings generated by hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” meets the state definition of hazardous, it’s not treated as such.

Other states that have embraced this form of drilling and/or accepted the wastes that fracking generates have experienced contaminated water, polluted air, and adverse human health effects.

Fracking chemicals arrive at a drilling site often as regulated hazardous materials, but federal and state exemptions allow drillers that pump these harmful chemicals into the ground to treat the wastes that come back up as standard industrial waste. Carcinogenic benzene, toluene, and formaldehyde are common frack fluid ingredients and the returning flowback water also brings up naturally occurring salts, heavy metals and radioactive particles. These naturally occurring contaminants also can be found in the drill cuttings that are brought up before fracking commences. Fracking wastewater that enters local sewage treatment plants—sometimes with radiation levels hundreds of times the safe limits for drinking water—goes right back into the rivers and streams that supply water to millions of people.

Although there has been a de facto moratorium on the drilling of horizontal gas wells in New York since 2008, and Governor Cuomo officially banned HFHV in 2015, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has issued permits during that time for nearly one thousand new vertical, low volume oil and gas wells, of which 90% have used the fracking process. But to date, the DEC has not tracked where the millions of gallons of drilling wastes from these wells have gone or whether these potentially hazardous wastes were handled and treated properly. Closing the hazardous waste loophole will mean that fracking waste will be monitored through a manifest system and that extra safeguards will be in place to avoid accidents and ensure proper waste treatment. Such a designation will also keep fracking wastes out of our municipal treatment plants and the waterways that provide our drinking water.

To add to this urgency New York is already receiving solid and liquid wastes from drilling operations across our southern border. Since 2011, more than 500,000 tons of potentially radioactive drill cuttings have entered at least 7 NY landfills from Pennsylvanian fracked wells, with little oversight from the DEC because of this loophole in regulation. Catskill Mountainkeeper supports this bill.


This bill places directs that all gas drilling waste will be considered hazardous if its chemical constituency meets the definition of hazardous waste in state law.  


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