The Pennsylvania state legislature is currently considering bills like SB 790 and HB 1635 that would enable a health and environmental disaster. The legislation would allow oil and gas companies to dump their drilling wastewater on our roads, rather than properly treat and dispose of it. This wastewater is full of various drilling chemicals and salts, and contains within it materials from deep in the earth that were drilled into. While often called “brine”, it’s much more than simply a salty brine.
This wastewater contains numerous toxic and even radioactive chemicals, including radium, that normally wouldn’t be in our drinking water and water treatment facilities. However, if it is dumped on roads, that toxic wastewater won’t simply stay on the roads – it will run into our soil, our streams, and our water treatment facilities. It is a health hazard and toxic to the environment and should never be allowed to happen.
While wastewater dumping is perhaps the most egregious part of this proposal, the entire SB 790 is a gift to the fossil fuel industry in the form of rollbacks to important health and environmental regulations. As reported by Penn Future, as currently written, SB 790:
As state representative, I would strongly oppose SB 790 and any other such legislation. Ultimately, we must move away from the fossil fuel economy entirely, toward a green economy built on renewable energy and infrastructure. This is why I support a Green New Deal for Pennsylvania, the state must invest heavily in a green economy, for better jobs, better health for the region, and ultimately to save the planet from the climate change.
I encourage individuals and organizations in the district to sign on to this letter opposing SB 790 and HB 1635. I have signed on as an individual and a candidate for office and will contact the offices of current elected officials to follow up. For completeness, the entire text of the letter is given below.
On October 21, the Senate passed SB 790 by a vote of 26 – 23. The vote was held as soon as the bill left the Appropriations Committee and was conducted without debate. The bill is a controversial one with many concerning provisions, including one that allows for the spreading of brine from conventional drilling on unpaved roads as a dust-suppressant. We, the undersigned, are writing to protest your refusal to follow the established process in a rush to get a win for the industry you have come to believe you represent.
Just last year, a team of PennState researchers published a peer-reviewed study that found that “in Pennsylvania from 2008 to 2014, spreading O&G wastewater on roads released over 4 times more radium to the environment (320 millicuries) than O&G wastewater treatment facilities and 200 times more radium than spill events.”
Earlier this year, another study from PSE Healthy Energy that looked at oil and gas waste management from 1991 – 2017 found that about 30 percent of waste came from conventional drilling. Road spreading of waste was first reported in 1995. PA Environment Digest summarized the findings reported by lead author Lee Ann Hill. “The study found 5,725,353 barrels (240,464,826 gallons) of wastewater from conventional oil and gas wells were applied to roads between 1991 and 2017. 97.9 percent of that waste – 235,415,065 gallons– remained in Pennsylvania and was spread on roads.
“In 2017, approximately 193,000 barrels (8.1 million gallons) of wastewater from conventional oil and gas operations were used for road spreading. This accounted for 0.3 percent of all wastewater generated in 2017, according to Hill.”
As you know, the DEP put a moratorium on road-spreading of brine in 2018 as a result of a 2017 Environmental Hearing Board appeal. Then, in May of this year, days after the PSE Healthy Energy study was published, the Pennsylvania Grade Crude Development Advisory Council (CDAC) wrote in its Annual Report , “At public comment at various meetings during the year the presidents of PIOGA and PGCC complained to CDAC about the oil and gas production constraints and the economic hardship suffered as a result of the dwindling number of produced water options.
“Among other things the presidents of the trade organizations called upon CDAC to direct its efforts to the re-initiation of the brine spreading/dust suppression program suspended by the DEP, but which had operated previously for several decades.”
Our state government has a sad tradition of catering to every whim of the natural gas industry. Among the members of CDAC are Senator Hutchinson, a co-sponsor of SB 790, Senator Yudichak, DCED Secretary Dennis Davin, DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell, Representative Martin Causer, prime sponsor of HB 1635, a similar measure introduced in the House, and Representative Ryan Bizzarro.
Doing the bidding of the natural gas industry is not your job. You are in Harrisburg to represent the best interests of Pennsylvanians. You are failing us, regularly and miserably. We call on the House to stop both SB 790 and HB 1635. Should they fail to represent our best interests, we call on Governor Wolf to commit to vetoing whichever bill reaches his desk.
Sincerely, Karen Feridun, Kutztown, 19530
cc: House Leadership Governor Tom Wolf
NOTE: Updated 2020-01-14 to make opposition to the whole bill SB 790 clear, not just the wastewater component.