DEP To Propose Regulations Allowing Road Dumping Of Conventional Drilling Wastewater Across PA

On August 19, Kurt Klapkowski, Director of DEP’s Bureau Of Oil and Gas Planning and Program Management, told the PA Grade Crude [Oil] Development Advisory Council DEP is looking to develop the data to defend the development of a program to allow the road dumping of drilling wastewater across the state under new conventional drilling regulations.

This is a reversal in DEP’s earlier position when Scott Perry, Deputy for Oil and Gas Management, told DEP’s Citizens Advisory Council in January 2019 DEP “currently no plans to develop a regulation or a permit to authorize the use of brine,” but added DEP has not noted any environmental impact from the use of brine as a dust suppressant.

This change in position by DEP came during the Advisory Council’s discussion of a new study by Penn State researchers to be published in the journal Science of The Total Environment that found oil and gas drilling wastewater is far less effective than commercial products at suppressing dust, is easily washed off roadways into nearby streams and fields and contains pollutants that can negatively affect human health, agriculture and aquatic life.  Read more here.

Klapkowski reported to the Council this new study was funded by DEP and is related to a companion study Penn State is due to complete by the end of the year on the environmental impacts of road dumping of conventional drilling wastewater

“We had a regulation in place in 2016 in Chapters 78 and 78a for dust suppression, road stabilization, deicing, pre-wetting and anti-icing... and we got sued over the program we had in place in time,” said Klapkowski. 

“We have to be able to defend our decisions with data. And that was the attempt, with working with Penn State, that's what we were attempting to do was to develop that data to be able to have a program that we could go to the Environmental Hearing Board and the Commonwealth Court and Supreme Court under the constitution and under the statutes that we administer, that would be defensible,” Klapkowski said.

“I don’t think we would have any objection to working with [PA Grade Crude [Oil] Development Advisory Council] and the Legislature to try to figure out a way to develop that data [to support a road dumping program],” said Klapkowski.  “I think we're hopeful that the [second Penn State] study that we funded and expect to have finished [by the end of the year] will provide data that will allow us to have a program that we can defend in court.”

After the Council meeting, a spokesperson for DEP said, “DEP is not actively developing a spreading regulation brine at this time; if that should change in the future, any regulation would be supported by scientific data.”

Members of the Advisory Council were critical of the Penn State study reported on this week saying it was a study in a laboratory and not in the “real world” like other studies done by industry groups like the PA Independent Oil and Gas Association and the PA Independent Petroleum Producers.

In response to a question from an Advisory Council member about whether this new Penn State Study is going to override all other studies the Department, PIPP, PIOGA have done, Klapkowski said, “No certainly it won’t.”

“When we try to pull these regulations together, we are looking at the totality of all the information that we have,” said Klapkowski.  “I mean, it's all, it's all good information, so why wouldn't we review it and use it?”

The Council voted to write a letter to Penn State and DEP asking them to include the Council in future research work because they thought they were blindsided by this study that didn’t involve them..

Klapkowski said DEP would be looking to adopt regulations like those proposed in 2016 covering the road dumping of conventional drilling wastewater in Chapter 78, Section 78.70.  These conventional regulations were killed by the General Assembly and DEP was forced to start the rulemaking process over.  Read more here.

DEP did not include road dumping in its current draft of Chapter 78 conventional regulations reviewed with the Advisory Council.

In October 2016, DEP did adopt regulations prohibiting the road dumping of production wastewater from unconventional oil and gas wells for dust suppression, anti-icing and de-icing.

As a result of a 2017 appeal to the Environmental Hearing Board, DEP’s Oil and Gas Program imposed a moratorium on all road dumping of wastewater from wells in the state in 2018.

However, the road dumping of wastewater from oil and gas wells is still authorized under the DEP Waste Management Program under a co-product determination which allows the use of waste that has similar properties to commercial products as if it was that product.

The individual co-product determinations are done by the oil and gas driller without review or submission to DEP before they can be used to dispose of drilling wastewater.  One Advisory Council member reported DEP were beginning to request copies of some of the self-determinations, but there was no indication of how many.

This new Penn State study very clearly says oil and gas drilling wastewater is at least THREE orders of magnitude less effective at dust suppression than other commercial alternatives, which blows a big hole in the “co-product” determinations made by DEP over the years.

The road dumping of conventional drilling wastewater is pervasive and widespread in oil and gas areas in Pennsylvania and as a result DEP has an extremely difficult time taking enforcement actions to shutdown illegal operations.  Read more here.

A second new study released last week from researchers from the Technical University Of Munich say there is a clear link between exposure to airborne or waterborne particles and several health conditions through the breakdown of the mucosal system, the body’s first line of defense from infections and toxins.  Read more here.

Residents where road dumping is occurring in Pennsylvania have complained for years of a variety of health-related problems.  Read more here.

Other recent research by Penn State and others has shown the road dumping of wastewater from oil and gas wells as a dust suppressant is not only NOT effective, but contaminates the roads and wash sediment and pollutants into nearby streams.

There has also been other research pointing to not only environmental but also health impacts from using oil and gas well wastewater for dust control.  Click Here for a summary.

Another recent study found that between 1991 and 2017, 240.4 million gallons of wastewater from conventional oil and gas wells were applied to roads, according to DEP records.

The 2019 Annual Report of the Crude (Oil) Development Advisory Council contains a special section devoted to the issue of oil and gas production water issues, including the goal of reinstating the road dumping program, leaving no doubt about their political intentions.

The conventional drillers have also supported legislation-- House Bill 1144 (Causer-R- Cameron)-- that would legalize the road dumping of drilling wastewater.  House Republicans passed the bill in May and it is now in the Senate.  Read more here.

Senate Republicans have their own version of the bill that would do the same thing-- Senate Bill 534 (Hutchinson-R-Venango)-- but it has not yet been considered.

Click Here to listen to audio of the Advisory Council’s August 19 discussion of road dumping conventional oil and gas wastewater.

For more information and available handouts, visit DCED’s PA Grade Crude [Oil] Development Advisory Council webpage.  Questions should be directed to Adam Walters, or call 717-214-6548.

Related Articles:

-- New Penn State Study: Shows Road Dumping Oil & Gas Drilling Wastewater Has Little Dust Suppression Benefit, Contains Pollutants Harmful To Human Health, Agriculture, Aquatic Life

-- Penn State Study Recommends Only Using Nontoxic Products Or Highly Treated Drilling Wastewater To Remove Radium, Oil, Metals Before Road Spreading

-- House Republicans Pass Bill Legalizing Road Dumping Of Conventional Oil & Gas Well Wastewater, Rolling Back Environmental Protection Standards

-- 81 Groups, 3,342 Individuals Express Opposition To Bill Legalizing Road Dumping Of Conventional Drilling Wastewater

-- Road Dumping Of Oil & Gas Well Wastewater Is Happening Now In Crawford, Erie, Warren Counties As House Prepares To Take Up Bill This Week To Make It Legal

-- Dangers Posed By Oil & Gas Drilling Wastes, Abandoned Wells + Siri Lawson’s Story From Warren County

-- Save PA’s Forests Coalition: Hosts Aug. 25 Webinar On Watersheds And Wilderness At Risk From Natural Gas Development

[Posted: August 19, 2021]


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