Filling the Void: A Citizens’ Audit of Ohio Oil and Gas Waste Disposal Wells

Filling the Void: A Citizens’ Audit of Ohio 

Oil and Gas Waste Disposal Wells

Nathan Rutz and Melissa English

Ohio Citizen Action and Ohio Citizen Action Education Fund

December 2014

Watchdog report: Brine use on roads debated

Watchdog report: Brine use on roads debated.

EPA Program to Protect Underground Sources from Injection of Fluids Associated with Oil and Gas Production Needs Improvement


EPA Program to Protect Underground Sources from Injection of Fluids Associated with Oil and Gas Production Needs Improvement

Why GAO Did This Study

Every day in the United States, at least

2 billion gallons of fluids are injected

into over 172,000 wells to enhance oil

and gas production, or to dispose of

fluids brought to the surface during the

extraction of oil and gas resources.

These wells are subject to regulation to

protect drinking water sources under

EPA’s UIC class II program and

approved state class II programs.

Because much of the population relies

on underground sources for drinking

water, these wells have raised

concerns about the safety of the

nation’s drinking water.

GAO was asked to review EPA’s

oversight of the class II program. This

report examines (1) EPA and state

roles, responsibilities, and resources

for the program, (2) safeguards to

protect drinking water, (3) EPA

oversight and enforcement of class II

programs, and (4) the reliability of

program data for reporting. GAO

reviewed federal and state laws and

regulations. GAO interviewed EPA and

state officials and reviewed class II

programs from a nongeneralizable

sample of eight states selected on the

basis of shale oil and gas regions and

the highest number of class II wells.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that, among other

things, EPA review emerging risks

related to class II program safeguards

and ensure that it can effectively

oversee and efficiently enforce class II

programs. EPA agreed with all but the

enforcement recommendation. GAO

continues to believe that EPA should

take actions to ensure it can enforce

state class II regulations, as discussed

in the report.

What GAO Found

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) role in the Underground Injection

Control (UIC) class II program is to oversee and enforce fluid injection into wells

associated with oil and gas production, known as class II wells. EPA has

approved 39 states to manage their own class II programs, and EPA regions are

responsible for managing the programs in remaining states. EPA regions and

states use a mix of resources to manage class II programs, including EPA grant

funding, state funding, and federal and state personnel. EPA’s UIC grant funding

has remained at about $11 million for at least the past 10 years.

Class II programs from the eight selected states that GAO reviewed have

safeguards, such as construction requirements for injection wells, to protect

against contamination of underground sources of drinking water. Programs in two

states are managed by EPA and rely on EPA safeguards, while the remaining six

programs are state managed and have their own safeguards that EPA deemed

effective at preventing such contamination. Overall, EPA and state program

officials reported that these safeguards are protective, resulting in few known

incidents of contamination. However, the safeguards do not address emerging

underground injection risks, such as seismic activity and overly high pressure in

geologic formations leading to surface outbreaks of fluids. EPA officials said they

manage these risks on a state-by-state basis, and some states have additional

safeguards to address them. EPA has tasked its UIC Technical Workgroup with

reviewing induced seismicity associated with injection wells and possible

safeguards, but it does not plan reviews of other emerging risks, such as high

pressure in formations. Without reviews of these risks, class II programs may not

have the information necessary to fully protect underground drinking water.

EPA is not consistently conducting two key oversight and enforcement activities

for class II programs. First, EPA does not consistently conduct annual on-site

state program evaluations as directed in guidance because, according to some

EPA officials, the agency does not have the resources to do so. The agency has

not, however, evaluated its guidance, which dates from the 1980s, to determine

which activities are essential for effective oversight. Without such an evaluation,

EPA does not know what oversight activities are most effective or necessary.

Second, to enforce state class II requirements, under current agency regulations,

EPA must approve and incorporate state program requirements and any

changes to them into federal regulations through a rulemaking. EPA has not

incorporated all such requirements and changes into federal regulations and, as

a result, may not be able to enforce all state program requirements. Some EPA

officials said that incorporating changes into federal regulations through the

rulemaking process is burdensome and time-consuming. EPA has not, however,

evaluated alternatives for a more efficient process to approve and incorporate

state program requirements and changes into regulations. Without incorporating

these requirements and changes into federal regulations, EPA cannot enforce

them if a state does not take action or requests EPA’s assistance to take action.

EPA collects a large amount of data on each class II program, but the data are

not reliable (i.e., complete or comparable) to report at a national level. EPA is

working on a national database that will allow it to report UIC results at a national

level, but the database will not be fully implemented for at least 2 to 3 years.

Marcellus Waste Radioactivity In Water Leaching From Landfills / Public News Service

Marcellus Waste Radioactivity In Water Leaching From Landfills / Public News Service.

No hydrofracking waste on roads or in treatment plants in Onondaga County, legislators decide |

No hydrofracking waste on roads or in treatment plants in Onondaga County, legislators decide |

Pa. shuts down wastewater facility

Pa. shuts down wastewater facility.

Radioactive fracking debris triggers worries at dump sites | TribLIVE

Radioactive fracking debris triggers worries at dump sites | TribLIVE.

Sewage Plants Struggle To Treat Wastewater Produced By Fracking Operations | Chemical & Engineering News

Sewage Plants Struggle To Treat Wastewater Produced By Fracking Operations | Chemical & Engineering News.

Brine Spreading Summary

Is Brine from Propane Storage Domes Any Safer Than Drilling Waste?

Emerging Trend to Spread Drilling Waste on Highways

More and more highway departments across the country are adopting the practice of spreading brine on the roads to suppress dust in the summer and to melt ice in the winter.  To a large extent this trend is fueled by the  ever mounting volumes of salty waste produced by the country’s high volume hydraulic fracturing boom.  Looking for ways to  dispose of the waste, many drilling companies are supplying this brine free of charge  to cash-strapped municipalities.

But is it safe to spread this on our roads and highways?

Citizens and local officials are beginning to have second thoughts.  They’re concerned about exposure to residual drilling chemicals,  toxic heavy metals and radioactivity often found in drilling waste  -especially waste coming from the Marcellus Shale.    On December 18th  the Tompkins County Legislature voted to prohibit the disposal of fracking waste on county roads.  This past June, Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton  and 75 other New York State legislators from both sides of the aisle sent a letter to  Governor Cuomo urging him to ban the use statewide of drilling waste on our roads ( .


Alternative Sources of  Brine

Still, the inexpensive deicing efficacy of brine compared to the use of rock salt is very attractive to municipalities.   That’s why responsible  highway departments are seeking other sources of brine for road spreading.   Some are fabricating their own brine by mixing road salt with fresh water.    Others have found non drilling related sources of brine, hoping to eliminate the possibility that it could contain residual fracking chemicals. New York State Department of Transportation  Region 3 (  ) and many local municipalities are  using or are looking into using non drilling related brine from the former TEPPCO gas storage facility at Harford Mills which now belongs to Enterprise Products Partners (“one of the largest publicly-traded energy partnerships and a leading North American provider of midstream energy services” ).

This brine comes from two large salt domes used for storing propane.  The brine is kept in a large holding pond on the surface and is pumped   underground to stabilize the structure of the domes when gas is removed and sent to market.  When new gas is pumped back into the domes for storage,  brine is pushed out to the surface and stored again in the large holding pond.  This repetitive cycle of filling and removing liquid from the domes erodes the salt structure over time and  increases the capacity of the domes.  It also increases the volume of brine they produce, sometimes more than the holding pond can handle.  Enterprise Partnership sells this excess brine to the state and to municipalities for road spreading.


Is Enterprise Partnership’s  Brine Safe for Road Spreading?

Here are six things  worth researching in more detail.

1.      Proximity of the salt domes to the Marcellus shale.

According to DEC permits for the facility at Harford Mills (,  the salt domes are located approximately 3,000 feet below the surface.   And according to contour maps cited by the USGS,  the bottom of the Marcellus shale layer is also approximately 3,000 feet below the surface in the vicinity of Harford Mills.  Although  the geologic formation where the salt is located (the Salina)  is separated from the Marcellus by the  Helderberg and Tristates layers ,  is it possible that  fissures and cracks in those over lying layers  and the ever expanding size of the salt domes below could allow a comingling of Marcellus Brine with the Syracuse Salt Brine of the Salina layer?   If so, is the Harford Mills Facility producing a brine laden with toxins typically associated with the Marcellus layer:  ie.  the same heavy metals and the radioactivity  (  )?

2.      Ground water concerns in Harford Mills.

According to a report written by John Helgren, formerly  of the Cortland County Health Department, back in the 1970’s  a large surface spill of brine in the Harford/Harford Mills area flowed into the local surface water and then into the ground water and irrevocably polluted a number of private drinking water wells in the area (,%279%27%29#Comments%20on%20SGEIS ).  Current members of Cortland County Health Department say this toxic brine plume has not dissipated  and is still slowly traveling underground some 40 years later.


In order to remedy the loss of drinking water to the local residents,  the Harford Water District was formed.  A public well was drilled and it currently supplies some 50 homes with water.  Unfortunately, according to a report published by the New York Times ,  water  from the Harford Water District has been found to exceed the health limits for arsenic, radium 226,  radium 228,  and radon  ( ) .

If these pollutants exceed health limits in aquifers near the surface in Harford,  what are their levels in the deeper formations –like the Marcellus, or the Salina?


3.       Relevance, accuracy and frequency of testing.

Relevance.   Although laboratories like LSL of East Syracuse have tested the brine at the Harford Mills Facility, are they testing for all of the substances of concern?   Recent analytical results from that lab make no mention of radium, radon or of radioactivity.

The test results do mention elevated levels of bromide,  but fail to mention the danger of toxic brominated trihalomethanes that can form after bromides are exposed to water purification procedures  ( ). Can the road spreading of brine containing elevated levels of bromides endanger municipal drinking water supplies where water purification procedures are in place?

Accuracy.   One of the problems associated with testing brine stored open holding ponds is the presence of a layer of fresh water floating on the surface of the brine.  After heavy precipitation,  the holding pond can pick up significant volumes of fresh water that  can temporarily dilute the brine.   Can this dilution skew the accuracy of the testing?    Recent test results from Harford Mills say, “Due to sample matrix interference, the sample was diluted and the reporting limits were raised accordingly.”   Does this mean that the concentrations of potential toxins were not measured accurately?


Frequency.   How often does the DEC require testing at the Harford Mills Facility?   Is annual testing adequate?   Does all brine in the holding pool originate exclusively from the Harford facility?  If not, should the brine be re tested each time brine from other sources is added?


4.       Cumulative effects.

Do the DEC tolerances for toxic substances in one truck load of brine take into account the cumulative impact of many truckloads applied to our roads over a season, or thousands of truckloads over decades?  Of particular concern are cumulative  impacts near the municipal drinking water well-heads.

5.       Provenance of the Brine.

What guarantees do municipalities have that the  brine coming from Enterprise Partnerships originates  exclusively from the Harford Mills salt domes?  Is there anything in their contracts with municipalities  that commits to this?   During the winter season, for example, when consumer demand for propane is high,  will the facility need more brine than it has  to stabilize the salt domes?  Will the company then turn to drilling operators  to provide them with drilling waste to serve that purpose?


One surprising revelation in LSL’s lab report is the elevated level of surfactants.   It might be worth inquiring as to why surfactants would be present in a gas storage dome.   Surfactants are routinely used in drilling and in hydrofracking.  AirFoam HD is a brand used at some well sites in Pennsylvania, and it is composed largely of 2 Butoxy Ethanol,  a known human endocrine disrupter  and carcinogen.   Were the surfactants discovered at elevated levels in the Harford Mills brine composed of 2 butoxy Ethanol?   The reports do not say.


Bob Applegate


PA DEP Oil & Gas Reporting Website – Statewide Data Downloads By Reporting Period

PA DEP Oil & Gas Reporting Website – Statewide Data Downloads By Reporting Period.

This database shows that much PA unconventional drilling waste is coming to NY for disposal

Spreadsheet showing waste transported to NY from PA Chesapeake wells from Jan to June, 2012.  Most is drill cuttings deposited in Painted Post and Niagara Falls landfills.

NYwaste repositories.1-6of2012.Chesapeake