Environmental group warns of fracking waste on NY roads


(Scott Waldman)   Despite a moratorium on fracking in New York State, more than a dozen municipalities have received state approval to spread a fracking byproduct on their roads.

The fluid, called production brine, can now be spread on roads in Wyoming, Erie, Cattaraugus, and Seneca counties, according to state documents obtained by Riverkeeper, a group that advocates for cleanup of the Hudson River.

An additional ten municipalities in Allegany and Steuben counties have received state permission to spread waste brine from natural gas storage.

Nine counties have banned the use of fracking brine on their roads because it contains pollutants, according to Riverkeeper scientist Bill Wegner. They include five along the Hudson River in the last year: Albany, Orange, Putnam, Westchester and Rockland.

“The biggest concern is the carcinogens; you don’t want that to get into drinking water supplies,” Wegner said.

Production brine largely comes from some of the 6,000 low-volume gas wells currently allowed in New York as well as some in Pennsylvania, and is used for de-icing, dust control and road stabilization. The fluid can pollute rivers, streams and aquifers if not controlled properly, and it contains high levels of chloride, benzene and toluene, all of which can cause health problems in humans, Wegner said. It can also contain naturally-occurring radioactive materials. And while chloride is contained in the road salt commonly used across the country, it is far more concentrated in fracking waste. Some of the brine is a waste product that comes from natural gas storage facilities. Thirteen municipalities received state permission to use fracking brine, which comes out of wells, and 10 use brine that is removed from natural gas after it has been stored for a while. Both contain pollutants.

Riverkeeper obtained the applications of communities applying to spread the fluid on their roads from the state Department of Environmental Conservation through a Freedom of Information Law request. Private businesses in western New York requested the fluid, which is free or cheaper than traditional methods, as did the towns of Genessee and Dunkirk, and the state Department of Transportation in Chautaqua County.

The D.E.C. did not respond to request for comment.

Riverkeeper attorney Misti Duvall said the use of fracking brine in the state is concerning because it’s not easy to tell what is in the mix being applied to roads. In fact, Riverkeeper found the state doesn’t always track the source of the brine. What’s more, the state also permits the storage of waste that comes from high-volume hydrofracked wells in Pennsylvania or West Virginia, which have much higher concentrations of dangerous chemicals.

“It’s difficult to track where that fluid is coming from and where it is going,” she said.

Riverkeeper is not officially opposed to fracking, but wants the industry to be heavily regulated and ensure safety, should Gov. Andrew Cuomo decide to lift the moratorium that has been in place since 2008.


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