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.

Applications Being Accepted for 2008 Pennsylvania Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence

PA Gov's Awards LogoApplications are now available for the 2008 Pennsylvania Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence. The award is open to any Pennsylvania business, government agency, educational institution, nonprofit organization, individual or farm that has created or helped to develop a project that promotes environmental stewardship and economic development in the state. The deadline to submit projects for 2008 awards is Monday, October 15, 2007. You can download an application and view detailed summaries of past winning projects on the PA DEP web site.