Sanitary landfills in Pennsylvania can accept liquid waste products from drilling and fracking for oil and gas as long as they are “immobilized,” mixed with wood chips or sawdust, for example.
This waste may contain high levels of heavy metals, such as arsenic; salts such as chloride and bromide; and naturally occurring radioactive materials.
Sanitary landfills are those designed to decompose waste; it is not necessarily designed to handle radioactive waste.
A collaborative research study led by Daniel Bain, University of Pittsburgh associate professor of geology and environmental science, analyzed records as well as soil samples to better understand the effects of dumping this waste at facilities that not built with radioactive waste.
The team, in an article written by Ecological Indicators of Lauren Badertscher, a master’s student at Duquesne University and now with the EPA, found that poor records and a lack of monitoring are a barrier to fully understanding the impact of this approach on non- movable oil and gas waste disposal.
Sediment samples taken above and below from 17 facilities that treat water from landfills in New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania—all said to have accepted such waste in 2019, when taken the samples-often show high levels of radium, implicating waste as a source.
Discharge permits for these landfills do not generally require monitoring of materials found in oil and gas waste.
The research team sought reports to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Oil and Gas Division from oil and gas wells, indicating that they were sending waste to sanitary landfills in New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
They also reviewed records from environmental agencies in New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania documenting receipt of oil and gas waste.
When the researchers compared the two, they found that, at best, there was a 30% difference between the records of what was sent and what was received.
Almost half of the landfills examined had either a shipment record or a receipt record, but no corresponding record at the end of 2019. When totaled, these record-keeping gaps left more than 800,000 tons of oil and gas waste not accounted for.
The researchers concluded that insufficient regulatory record keeping and the lack of mandatory monitoring and testing is an obstacle to fully understand the impact on local water systems of sanitary landfills that receive wastewater that result of drilling and fracking for oil and gas.
“The mismatch in regulatory records creates the potential for contamination,” Bain said. “And although we don’t have the data to unambiguously tie the increase in stream sediment radium to dumping this waste in landfills, the observations clearly show that we need to start investigating, and maybe rethink , the disposal of oil and gas waste in landfills.”
Lauren M. Badertscher et al, Elevated sediment radionuclide concentrations downstream of facilities treating leachate from a landfill that accepts oil and gas waste, Ecological Indicators (2023). DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolind.2023.110616
Provided by the University of Pittsburgh
Citation: Study finds 800,000 tons of drilling, fracking waste unaccounted for in NY, PA, Ohio (2023, July 19) retrieved July 19, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023 -07-tons-drilling-fracking-unaccounted-ny.html
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