Watershed Wednesday

It’s #WatershedWednesday, and Mountainkeeper is working with our partners at the Delaware River Frack Ban Coalition to raise awareness about different aspects of the Delaware River Basin Commission’s (DRBC) proposed fracking waste regulations, and what they would mean for life in the Delaware River Basin (DRB) watershed and beyond. 

This week, we’re focusing on how these regulations would permit the import of radioactive frack wastewater into the Delaware River Watershed, and what this harmful practice would mean for communities and the environment. While discharge of frack wastewater is prohibited, these regulations would allow this wastewater to be stored within the Delaware River Watershed. The extreme health risks of these radioactive chemicals have been known since the 1950s, and it is doubtful that nearby communities would have any control or say over what facilities these toxic chemicals are stored in. Evidence shows that the containers and pipes used to store and transport this caustic waste are prone to leaks and spills, and in some cases have been deliberately dumped.

It’s #WatershedWednesday, and Mountainkeeper is working with our partners at the Delaware River Frack Ban Coalition to raise awareness about different aspects of the Delaware River Basin Commission’s (DRBC) proposed fracking waste regulations, and what they would mean for life in the Delaware River Basin (DRB) watershed and beyond. 

This week, we’re focusing on how these regulations would permit the import of radioactive frack wastewater into the Delaware River Watershed, and what this harmful practice would mean for communities and the environment. While discharge of frack wastewater is prohibited, these regulations would allow this wastewater to be stored within the Delaware River Watershed. The extreme health risks of these radioactive chemicals have been known since the 1950s, and it is doubtful that nearby communities would have any control or say over what facilities these toxic chemicals are stored in. Evidence shows that the containers and pipes used to store and transport this caustic waste are prone to leaks and spills, and in some cases have been deliberately dumped.

The DRBC has established a public comment period on these regulations, which is open until February 28th. Mountainkeeper has been encouraging our supporters and activists to leave comments for the DRBC voicing their opposition to these draft regulations, and our message is being heard. Our persistence has helped convince the DRBC to schedule a virtual public hearing about these regulations on February 3rd, at 1:30pm. We thank all of you for making your voices heard, and ask that you continue to leave comments to the DRBC here, and register to attend the upcoming virtual public hearing on February 3.

We’ve made it easy for you to leave a comment! Scroll down for Watershed Wednesday resources and sample comments from the Delaware River Frack Ban Coalition Organizing Committee. You can modify these samples to reflect your personal thoughts, or simply copy and paste them into the DRBC’s public comment platform.

Sincerely,

Wes Gillingham, Associate Director
Catskill Mountainkeeper


BACKGROUND

In October 2021, the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) proposed new natural gas regulations that would leave the Delaware River Watershed vulnerable to exploitation by the fossil fuel and fracking industry. These regulations not only would allow fracking operations to import wastewater into the watershed, but also would permit the removal of clean water from the Delaware for use in fracking activities outside the watershed.  

If adopted, these deeply flawed regulations would jeopardize this delicate ecosystem, which provides clean drinking water for millions of people and critical habitat for diverse wildlife. That’s why Mountainkeeper has joined the Delaware River Frack Ban Coalition in speaking out against the DRBC’s draft regulations.


Today’s Watershed Wednesday comment theme is the storage of imported fracking waste in the Delaware Basin.

"Discharge to water or land" of wastewater produced by fracking is specifically prohibited–but import of fracking wastewater is allowed. This distinction opens a huge loophole when it comes to storage of this toxic wastewater.

The hazardous properties of wastewater produced by fracking come from materials introduced in fracking processes, as well as materials released from the Earth’s underground layers containing numerous toxic chemicals and brines. Scientific literature classifies the solutions as hazardous or toxic[1]. High salinity brines such as those found in the Marcellus or Utica shales contain high saline and metals such as barium or strontium and volatile organic compounds such as benzene (carcinogenic), toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene (BTEX) and radioactive substances such as uranium, radium, radon, and thorium. The most recent studies include evaluation of the radioactivity of flowback and produced brine fluids, with average radium levels over 5,300 picocuries per liter. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency maximum safe drinking water standard is 15 pCi/L[2].

Due to the exemption of oil and gas activities from the U.S. Resource Conservation and Recovery Act Subtitle C standards, the wastewater is not classified as hazardous and is not required to be handled or stored as hazardous materials, despite the many wastewater constituents known to have hazardous properties. Even if certain safe storage protocols are followed, without knowing all the components of the wastewater, proper protocols can’t be developed and implemented. Some of the substances in fracking wastewater are not even known by the well operator or perhaps even by the relevant state agency such as the PA Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP).[3] How can the waste be stored in a manner safe for public health and the environment when we don’t even know what is in it, and when its hazardous properties are ignored?

It is important to point out that, without a DRBC ban on the import and resulting storage of this waste in the Delaware Basin, the regulation of storage facilities lies with the state’s purview. Pennsylvania’s General Permit WMGR123[4] (issued this year with an expiration date of 2031), allows storage that, while deemed ‘temporary,’ actually could continue for years or even for the full length of the permit, meaning until 2031.

Any activity that will use the imported waste will need to store it before use. Unless storage of the waste is prevented through a DRBC ban on importing it to the Delaware Basin, the region will face many grave threats. For example, the tanks storing the waste may corrode and leak, the surface impoundments lined with plastic may leak, and the trucks or pipes transporting the waste may leak, spill, or be deliberately dumped; any or all of these would cause lasting contamination. In another big area of concern, no entity will be monitoring emissions. The chemicals and radiation in the waste proposed to be imported, transferred, and processed pose serious human health threats that have been known since 1950. Would impacted nearby communities have any control or say about facilities and practices? Remember: the DRBC does not have any enforcement capabilities over projects it doesn’t regulate (such as air permits) or projects that fit into an exempt category. These materials have been shown to be persistent in the environment, and capable of causing harm over a long time - they do not just disappear.

Please check out the references below, which back up the comment points and will help you delve deeper into these issues if you’d like to submit more expansive comments to the DRBC.

Sample Comments:

It is best to personalize each comment by starting out with SOMETHING ABOUT YOU, YOUR FAMILY, AND WHY YOU WANT A BAN ON THE IMPORT AND STORAGE OF FRACK WASTE IN THE DELAWARE BASIN and then use any of the language above or below.

  • The import and resulting storage of frack waste will enable this highly toxic oil and gas waste to be trans-loaded, stored, and moved about. All of this activity poses risks of spills, dumping, and harmful releases to land, air and water. These dangerous liquid wastes contain carcinogens, endocrine disrupting chemicals, heavy metals, poisonous hydrocarbons, radioactivity, and extremely high salt content. Included in the mix are the toxic BETX materials, benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, and xylenes. It was recently revealed that highly toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have been used in the fluids used in fracking in Pennsylvania and beyond.[5] In its national study of fracking and drinking water, EPA identified 1,606 chemicals in fracking fluid or drilling wastewater, including 1,084 identified in fracking fluid and 599 identified in wastewater; yet only 173 had toxicity values from sources that met EPA’s standards for conducting risk assessments.[6] I am very worried that these contaminants, many of them not even identified or tested for safety, are in the frack wastewater that could be imported to the watershed. Import and storage must be prohibited.

 

  • I oppose the draft regulations because, even though they properly  prohibit the discharge of fracking waste in the Basin, they allow this kind of toxic waste waste to be brought in for treatment. Before ‘treatment,’ it will be stored. The treatment process releases this pollution through various pathways, and is known to be ineffective. Stored waste has been released into the environment resulting in contamination (see the Compendium). Whether intentional or not, discharges of this waste to water and land will result in human and environmental damage. Similarly, emissions to air from this waste can be toxic and damaging to human health and the environment, as they are released into the surroundings as poisonous, smog-producing air pollution.[7]

 

  • I oppose the draft regulations because the  storage of hazardous chemicals will not be regulated–as they should  be, given the high risks to people and the environment–because wastewater produced by oil and gas activities is exempt from RCRA’s federal requirement for these chemicals to be handled or stored as hazardous materials. Also, we don’t even know what is actually in this toxic mix of wastewater because many of the constituents are either hidden from public as “trade secrets” knowledge, or are not properly tested or assessed by agencies for toxic properties.[8] How can the waste be stored in a manner safe for public health and the environment when we don’t even know specifically what is in it and when its known hazardous properties are ignored? Commissioners, you must ban the import of fracking wastewater to prevent the harm that would be done if it this is allowed to be imported and stored here.

References

[1]much material in the Compendium https://concernedhealthny.org/compendium/

[2] Tanja Srebrotnjak and Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, Natural Resources Defense Council, Fracking Fumes: Air Pollution from Hydraulic Fracturing Threatens Public Health and Communities, December 2014.

and chapters on air, water, radioactivity, health in the Compendium link above and U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Energy and Commerce, Chemicals Used in Hydraulic Fracturing, April 2011.

[3] “Keystone Secrets: Records Show Widespread Use of Secret Fracking Chemicals Is a Looming Risk for Delaware River Basin, Pennsylvania Communities”, Dusty Horwitt, Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI), September 11, 2018.

[4] https://files.dep.state.pa.us/Waste/Bureau%20of%20Waste%20Management/WasteMgtPortalFiles/SolidWaste/Residual_Waste/GP/GENERAL_PERMIT_WMGR123_FINAL_1_4_21.pdf

[5] Dusty Horwitt, “Fracking with Forever Chemicals” published by the Physicians for Social Responsibility, at https://www.delawareriverkeeper.org/sites/default/files/Fracking%20with%20Forever%20Chemicals%20(July%202021).pdf. And Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial with investigative info: https://www.delawareriverkeeper.org/sites/default/files/Phila%20Inquirer%20Editorial%20PFAS%20in%20Fracking%20(2021-07-15).pdf

[6] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas: impacts from the hydraulic fracturing water cycle on drinking water resources in the United States. Washington, DC: Office of Research and Development; 2016, at ES-45 to ES-46 and 9-1. EPA Report # 600/R-16/236F.  See https://www.epa.gov/hfstudy.

[7] Ibid.

[8]“Keystone Secrets: Records Show Widespread Use of Secret Fracking Chemicals Is a Looming Risk for Delaware River Basin, Pennsylvania Communities”, Dusty Horwitt, Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI), September 11, 2018.

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