Using sewage to reduce dust is harmful to Pa’s roads.

Penn State researchers recently briefed a state advisory committee on studies that found the common practice of using wastewater from oil and gas drilling to reduce dust on unpaved roads is causing more harm than good. good.

Wastewater from oil and gas drilling has been used for years as a cheap dust suppressant in rural Pennsylvania.

But sewage can contain toxic chemicals that run off these roads.

To test how much, Penn State scientists built a series of gravel roads in a lab and treated each with one of three sewage or commercially available dust suppressants. Then they simulated a rainstorm to see what got blown away.

“It’s proportional to how much concentration you apply to the road, so that’s an important finding: basically, it’s all washed away,” study co-author Bill Burgos said in a presentation. at the Oil and Gas Technical Department of the Department of Environmental Protection. Advisory Council.

Contaminants such as salts, metals and radioactive elements found in the runoff were at levels above what is considered healthy for people and the environment.

Burgos, a professor of environmental engineering, said runoff might be an acceptable compromise, if the treatment kept dust out.

“The bad news for waters produced by oil and gas is that they were little or no more efficient than rainwater,” he said.

This means that contaminants that are not washed off can be mixed with dust that people living nearby could breathe in.

The DEP stopped approving plans for spreading sewage on roads in 2018, after a Warren County woman filed a complaint with the Environmental Hearing Board. The DEP said it could not authorize the disposal or beneficial use of brine under the Solid Waste Management Act without a permit. The DEP can still authorize the practice if the wastewater meets certain criteria.

DEP records show that operators continue to empty the brines.

Eighteen companies reported disposing of more than 580,000 gallons of drilling wastewater through road-spreading in 2021, according to DEP’s Oil and Gas Waste Reporting Database.

The DEP website lists 84 municipalities in 13 counties that allow road spraying as “dumps”.

The Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association has disputed that the brines are ineffective as a road treatment.

He supports legislation that would allow conventional drillers to legally apply sewage to roads again. This bill was passed by the State House in 2021. It has not moved in the Senate and Governor Tom Wolf opposes it.

The Marcellus Shale Coalition says unconventional operators recycle 90% of wastewater to fracture new wells and inject the rest deep underground.

This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration between WESA, The Allegheny Front, WITF and WHYY.

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