Report: New York Does Not Safely Monitor Treatment or Disposal of Fracking Wastewater
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has failed to responsibly monitor the transport, treatment or disposal of waste from the state’s active gas wells, according to a new report released by Environmental Advocates of New York. The report examines how wastes from existing gas drilling operations are disposed in an effort to shed light on how public health and the environment may be affected by the anticipated influx of waste from gas drilling by means of high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” operations. As of 2009, the state was home to 6,628 gas wells, approximately 90 percent of which use low-volume fracking to extract the gas. The report also notes that the state’s proposed oversight of high-volume fracking would create a two-tier regulatory system, even though all fracking waste poses a threat to the safety of New York’s waters and communities.
“New York is not safely monitoring the transport, treatment or disposal of gas drilling waste, and based on the proposals under review, the state is not ready to provide responsible oversight of the millions of gallons of wastewater high-volume fracking will dump on our doorstep, if Governor Cuomo decides to permit it,” said Katherine Nadeau, Water & Natural Resources director, Environmental Advocates of New York. “We’re calling on the governor to close the hazardous waste loophole for drilling waste, require that new measures to protect New York from high-volume fracking apply to all fracking operations, prohibit sewage plants from accepting drilling waste, and ban road spreading.”
The report is based on the review of nearly 100 permit documents from the DEC for the state’s operating gas wells. Environmental Advocates submitted a Freedom of Information Law requests to the agency in November 2011 and February 2012. The report, Out of Sight, Out of Mind: New York’s Failure to Track or Treat Fracking Waste Endangers Public Health & the Environment, describes the state’s flawed process for permitting drilling operations; the makeup of fracking wastewater and its environmental hazards; and a discussion of the likely ways fracking wastewater is disposed of today.
Under state law, the DEC asks drillers two questions during the application process regarding waste disposal:
How will drilling fluids and stimulation fluids be contained and disposed of?
If brine will be stored onsite, how will it be stored and disposed of?
Environmental Advocates’ review of drillers’ responses shows cause for alarm. In at least 16 cases, drillers failed to identify where waste was hauled or disposed of. On no fewer than 25 forms, gas companies stated that wastes were disposed of at “approved facilities” without identifying the facilities; in nine cases, drillers said waste was disposed of per DEC regulations without specifying what this means. In addition, some applications identified multiple disposal options leading to further ambiguities.
“Based on our review of nearly 100 permits and permit documents for gas drilling, following the waste stream from well to ultimate disposal is nearly impossible,” said Nadeau.
Fracking wastewater hazards include toxic chemicals used in fracking fluids, the exact composition of which are considered trade secrets known only to the gas industry. In addition, fracking wastewater can be up to six times as salty as seawater depending on the rock formation drilled and the amount of time water spends in the well. Fracking may also bring naturally occurring radioactive materials to the surface in drilling wastes.
Both low- and high-volume fracking wastes are exempt from treatment as hazardous wastes, although if produced by any other industry, Marcellus Shale fracking wastes would likely be classified and treated as hazardous based on barium levels alone.
Although Gov. Cuomo and the DEC have proposed requiring the gas industry to submit drilling waste disposal plans for high-volume fracking, these requirements fall short of the publicly available cradle-to-the-grave tracking, handling and disposal measures required for other hazardous wastes.
Gov. Cuomo is contemplating whether to allow gas drilling by means of high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” in the Marcellus and Utica Shales. If fracking is permitted, how the industry is required to handle, treat and dispose of high volume fracking’s toxic wastes will be among the administration’s greatest challenges.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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