Oil and Gas Wastewater Use in Road Maintenance is a Potential Pollution Source

Did you know that at least 13 states–including IL, IN, MI, NY, OH, & PA bordering the Great Lakes–allow wastewater from oil and gas extraction to be used in a variety of road maintenance applications? The high salt content of oil and gas well wastewaters makes them  effective for use in deicing or retaining road moisture for the purposes of dust suppression. At first blush, this arrangement seems like a win-win, saving the well operators money in terms of wastewater treatment, and saving local government funding that might otherwise need to be spent on deicing and dust control fluids. The cost-effectiveness of this arrangement could be particularly important for rural communities with limited budgets.

Map of US highlighting states with regulations for spreading oil and gas (O&G) wastewaters on roads.
From Tasker et al., 2018. Environmental Science & Technology, 52 (12), pp. 7081-7091.

However, a report published in a recent issue of Environmental Science and Technology highlights the potential environmental and human health ramifications of using oil and gas wastewater in this fashion.  From the article’s abstract: “Analyses of O&G wastewaters spread on roads in the northeastern, U.S. show that these wastewaters have salt, radioactivity, and organic contaminant concentrations often many times above drinking water standards. Bioassays also indicated that these wastewaters contain organic micropollutants that affected signaling pathways consistent with xenobiotic metabolism and caused toxicity to aquatic organisms like Daphnia magna. The potential toxicity of these wastewaters is a concern as lab experiments demonstrated that nearly all of the metals from these wastewaters leach from roads after rain events, likely reaching ground and surface water. Release of a known carcinogen (e.g., radium) from roads treated with O&G wastewaters has been largely ignored. 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. Currently, state-by-state regulations do not require radium analyses prior to treating roads with O&G wastewaters. “

The researchers propose the following means to reduce potential harmful impacts from using oil and gas (O&G) wastewater for road treatment. Note that “DRO” stands for “diesel range organics” and “GRO” is “gas range organics” which is indicative of the total petroleum hydrocarbon present (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Total_petroleum_hydrocarbon for further information).  “1) Only O&G wastewaters that have been treated at wastewater treatment facilities should be considered for road spreading. The high calcium, sodium, and magnesium concentrations in O&G wastewaters are important for suppressing dust. In addition to the high salt concentrations, these wastewaters contain lead, radium, and organic compounds that could be potentially toxic. Wastewater treatment facilities are not designed to remove the high salt concentrations in O&G wastewaters. However, they can effectively remove radium, oil and grease, and other trace metals. 2) O&G wastewaters approved for road spreading should contain <60 pCi/L radium and <10 mg/L of total DRO and GRO, similar to other industrial wastewater effluent standards. No induction to human cell receptors was observed at DRO and GRO concentrations below 10 mg/L. In most cases, the chemical composition of O&G wastewater intended for road spreading must be submitted and approved before use. However, requirements for these chemical characterizations are relatively modest, vary widely between states, and currently do not include radium. Having chemical standards for O&G wastewaters that can be spread on roads could help reduce the potential toxicity concerns associated with this practice. 3) Affordable nontoxic dust suppressants should be developed and used.”

In other words, they recommend development and use of cheaper, nontoxic alternatives for the benefit of communities with limited road maintenance budgets, and in instances where oil and gas wastewaters are used, those substances should be treated first to remove potentially toxic trace metals, as well as tested and confirmed as having levels of radium and petroleum hydrocarbon levels deemed safe based on industrial wastewater treatment standards.

Read the full article at https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.8b00716.

Citation: T. L. Tasker, W. D. Burgos, P. Piotrowski, L. Castillo-Meza, T. A. Blewett, K. B. Ganow, A. Stallworth, P. L. M. Delompré, G. G. Goss, L. B. Fowler, J. P. Vanden Heuvel, F. Dorman, and N. R. Warner. 2018. Environmental and Human Health Impacts of Spreading Oil and Gas Wastewater on Roads. Environmental Science & Technology, 52 (12), pp. 7081-7091. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.8b00716.

New GLRPPR Sector Resource on Electronic Waste

Recently Indiana became the 19th state in the U.S. to enact electronic waste regulations with the signing of HB 1589. The group of states with such regulations also includes Michigan, Minnesota and Illinois in the Great Lakes region. According to the Electronics Take Back Coalition, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and New York will be considering e-waste legislation in 2009. At the local level, New York City also has electronic waste regulations. At the federal level, H.R. 1580, the Electronic Waste Research and Development Act, has been voted upon by the U.S. House of Representatives and been received by the Senate.

Given this trend, it seems appropriate to launch a resource collection on the Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable (GLRPPR) site focused specifically on e-waste issues. The GLRPPR Electronic Waste Sector Resource will include links to relevant legislation, news, events, funding opportunities, and contacts. This resource list is under development, so if you are aware of resources for e-waste programs in your state, please feel free to send links to Joy Scrogum for potential inclusion in this new resource list. An RSS feed is available for the Electronic Waste Sector Resource so you can be aware of new resources as they are added.

GLRPPR is a member of the Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange (P2Rx) a national network of pollution prevention information centers. Another P2Rx center, the Western Sustainability Pollution Prevention Network (WSPPN) has also developed a P2Rx Topic Hub on Electronic Waste. This is linked to within the new Sector Resource on the GLRPPR site and is also available on the main GLRPPR Topic Hub page.

August 2008 Site of the Month: INFORM, Inc.

INFORM, Inc. is “dedicated to educating the public about the effects of human activity on the environment and public health.” Its goal is to “empower citizens, businesses and government to adopt practices and policies that will sustain our planet for future generations.”

The ININFORM logoFORM web site provides information on current projects, including Waste Prevention: Extended Producer Responsibility, Cleaning for Health, and INFORM Media, the organization’s effort to spread environmental literacy by “making strategic use of video and the web to reach a greatly expanded audience with critically important information about how to preserve the environment and protect human health.” Thus far, INFORM has produced “The Secret Life of Cell Phones” as part of its media project, with future videos planned to focus on paper, jeans, antibacterial soaps and single-use plastic bottles.

The INFORM site also provides publications and topical RSS feeds. New site features reportedly “coming soon” will include blogs and a “tools and calculators” section.

New York City Hospitals & Energy Services Companies Recognized for Peak-Load Reduction

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) recently recognized three New York City hospitals and three energy service companies for energy efficiency efforts. The awards were made through NYSERDA’s Peak-Load Reduction Program, an incentive program designed to improve the reliability of New York’s electric grid while helping businesses and industries reduce operating costs.

New York Methodist and Mount Sinai Hospitals, along with New York Medical College, were each presented a plaque in recognition of their energy efficiency projects that will significantly reduce load demand during peak summer hours. The projects included the installation of two new, high efficiency dual-stage absorption chillers (New York Methodist), a lighting retrofit (Mount Sinai), and the installation of three high efficiency electric chillers and consolidating the air distribution system (New York Medical College). Combined, the three hospitals will save over $1 million a year in operating expenses and reduce electric consumption by over 7 million kilowatt hours per year.

LC Associates, NES Energy, and Con Edison Solutions were each presented awards for their work in numerous cooling, motor, and lighting projects.

Read the full NYSERDA press release online.

NY: Guidelines for Energy Efficient School Buildings & Green Schools Summit

The State Education Department (SED) and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) have announced new guidelines to encourage the use of energy efficient design when building and renovating schools. These voluntary guidelines, known as the “Collaborative for High Performance Schools” (NY-CHPS), were created through a joint effort of SED and NYSERDA. NY-CHPS will help schools develop and maintain learning environments that contribute to improved academic achievement while reducing operating costs and protecting and conserving our natural resources. Read the full NYSERDA press release here.

The guidelines are available online to download in PDF format.

Note that NYSERDA, in cooperation with the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA), will be hosting a Green Schools Summit on October 15, 2007 at Farmingdale State University of New York. Visit the summit web site to register and view the agenda. Sessions will cover the NY-CHPS, as well as reducing exposures to toxic substances/green cleaning, working with LIPA to green your school, alternative fuels and emission reduction efforts for school buses, and teacher/student energy and environmental initiatives from NYSERDA and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

New York State DEC to host REACH workshop

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) recently announced that it will host a workshop on the European Union’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemical Substances (REACH). REACH is a recently adopted overhaul of the chemicals management system in the EU. REACH has important implications for United States firms exporting to EU member states and the rules became effective on June 1, 2007. The training session will take place on September 26, 2007 at DEC headquarters in Albany, NY.

An earlier post described a similar workshop that will be held in Lansing, MI on September 27.

For more upcoming events, check the GLRPPR online calendar and Sector Resources.

New York: Pollution Prevention Institute RFP

New York State is seeking proposals to help establish a new pollution prevention institute that will promote innovative and cost effective methods for reducing or eliminating the use of toxic substances in manufacturing and other processes, Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Pete Grannis announced recently. DEC is encouraging public or private universities, non-profit institutions, or a consortium of such organizations to submit proposals to develop and implement this pioneering project, first initiated by Governor Eliot Spitzer as part of his 2007-08 Executive Budget. When established, the institute will provide an unparalleled center for technology evaluation and development, as well as technology transfer, training, assistance and workforce development. The institute’s objective is to help make businesses more competitive by enabling them to be more efficient. The institute will foster partnerships among businesses, universities, state and local governments, health and environmental organizations to stimulate the research and development of cutting-edge environmental technologies that will focus on sustainability and toxic use reduction over the course of the product life cycle. Proposals are due by December 5, 2007.

For more information, see the RFP online at http://www.dec.ny.gov/public/37277.html. For more funding opportunities, be sure to check the GLRPPR Funding Opportunities page regularly.