A hydraulic fracturing operation in Northern Pennsylvania near Binghamton N.Y. EPA

Environmental advocates’ efforts to make changes to the way New York regulates solid waste came up short as the state Department of Environmental Conservation on Sept. 20 finalized regulations governing solid waste management that would allow the practice of using fracking waste in landfill and roadways to continue.

A coalition of groups—which include the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Earthjustice, Earthworks, Environmental Advocates of New York, Food & Water Watch, New York Public Interest Research Group and Riverkeeper Inc.—had sought to make changes to the final rules governing solid waste management to prevent waste from hydraulic fracturing in neighboring states from ending up in New York landfills, or from being used to deice roadways (NYLJ, June 12).

The coalition said in a statement that “nearly three years ago, Governor Cuomo announced a ban on high-volume hydraulic fracturing because of the potential impacts to public health. It was a bold move. Unfortunately, in that time, fracking waste continued to be spread on roadways as a deicing agent and, since 2011, more than 600,000 tons of fracking waste from Pennsylvania drilling operations have made its way into our landfills.”

 

Citing the health risks of fracking, a controversial practice that involves injecting water, sand and chemicals at high pressure to release oil and natural gas from rock formations, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo banned the practice in December 2014. Fracking supporters had argued that the fracking would be an economic boon. Despite New York banning the practice within its borders, the state has continued to receive oil and gas waste associated with fracking from neighboring Pennsylvania, environmental groups claim.

While the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation prohibits waste that is more than 80 percent liquid from being dumped into New York’s landfills, the finalized rules do not close the “loophole” that allows solid waste that has come into contact from fracking fluid to be dumped in New York landfills, said Liz Moran of Environmental Advocates of New York. In an effort to circumvent the rule, the pudding-like substance released from fracking is bulked up by using wood chips or lime kiln, which is a “typical practice” in the fracking industry, Moran charged in an interview Sept. 22. Unless the waste is tested prior to it being dumped in New York landfills, there’s no way of knowing whether it contains prohibited fluids, Moran asserts. Using information from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Conservation, Moran said that the Chemung County landfill, located near the New York-Pennsylvania border, has received the most amount of waste from fracking. Unlike Pennsylvania, New York doesn’t have a comprehensive method for tracking the waste.

While the new regulations are an “improvement,” they don’t address the major changes environmental groups hoped to make, which included prohibiting the disposal associated with fracking material from landfills and the use of liquid waste from being used as a deicing agent and dust suppressant agent.

“Before these regs, the state didn’t have regulations on the books for how we handle oil and gas waste,” Moran said. “This is improvement.”

But the problem with the regulations, she added, was that they don’t reflect the standards or practices used by the oil and gas industry, leaving environmental groups unsatisfied.

In a statement, the Department of Environmental Conservation contended that the claims made by the advocates are inaccurate.

“Given the continued inaccurate statements from advocates, it is important to once again set the record straight that New York banned high volume hydraulic fracturing, prohibits the use and disposal of any high volume hydraulic fracturing waste liquids and continues to see zero evidence of pollution associated with drilling waste at landfills anywhere in the state. New York has continued this ban and strict oversight of landfills with our newly strengthened solid waste regulations and any insinuation to the contrary is inaccurate” the state agency said in an emailed statement.

Under the newly adopted regulations, landfills in New York may accept some types of drilling waste, primarily drill cuttings, which are rocks and soil from the drilling operation. While the state restricts waste from fracking and the development of wells, it is up to the individual landfill operators to ensure that the material being disposed of doesn’t include prohibited substances. In an effort to regulate the disposal of material, the regulations adopted Wednesday requires radiation detectors at landfills. According to the Department, last year four landfills reported receiving approved drilling waste, amounting to 25,743 tons, a fraction the waste received from sources.

Calls to the Independent Petroleum Association of America; the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York and New Yorkers for Affordable Energy, a coalition of community, labor and business groups, for comment were not returned Sept. 22 by deadline.

Water quality issues have been a thorny issue for the Cuomo administration after high levels of chemicals have been found in the drinking water of once-industrial areas like the village of Hoosick Falls. Advocates expect legal battles to ensue if it’s found that fracking waste being disposed of in New York is causing adverse health or environmental effects.

The energy industry is counting on the Trump administration to reduce state and federal regulation.

Contact the reporter Josefa Velasquez at jvelasquez@alm.com; Twitter: @J__Velasquez.