Michigan reacts, and the documents behind the radioactive frack sludge waste saga

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by LuAnne Kozma, Ban Michigan Fracking

Six days after our story was posted, alerting the public about the radioactive sludge heading to Michigan, the Detroit Free Press blasted their own story, “Michigan Takes in Radioactive Sludge” on the front page on August 19, causing a statewide wake-up call.

House and senate democrats sent out emails about the issue with links to the article, asking for money for the upcoming elections, and a Republican state senator got press saying he’d introduce a bill to make “the same tough standards of other states” like Ohio. (More on that in a future post. Ohio did not make tougher standards, they took drill cuttings out of the definition of TENORM!)

Today’s Detroit Free Press ran this cartoon by cartoonist Mike Thompson, “Radioactive Sludge in Your Backyard”:  http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2014308230020

And volunteers with Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan, Ban Michigan Fracking and others joined in a demonstration outside the facility on Thursday, Aug 21 for nine hours to bring attention to the pending shipment.

Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan at the radioactive frack waste disposal site in Belleville, Michigan, August 21, 2014.

Ballot initiative would ban this waste, statewide

The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan‘s ballot initiative would put an end to frack wastes being processed, disposed, or stored in the state. The Committee’s volunteers have been trying to ban frack wastes for the past two years. This year the Committee is collecting contributions and volunteers in order to obtain signatures next year for placing on the ballot in 2016. See the Committee’s new 4-page brochure detailing the many harms of fracking and how ballot initiative works.

In the meantime, a radioactive liner from Pennsylvania was also approved by DEQ for processing and disposal in Michigan.

Documents obtained by Ban Michigan Fracking on August 19 through a Freedom of Information Act request filed last week, show that a radioactive liner was approved on August 18 by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for processing and disposal at the same Belleville waste facility, in addition to the two roll-out containers of radioactive TENORM frack sludge from Washington County. Ban Michigan Fracking obtained six email exchanges between the Michigan DEQ and the EQ/US Ecology disposal facility (also called Michigan Disposal Inc and Wayne Disposal Inc, owned by EQ and recently purchased by US Ecology) in Michigan requesting to process and dispose of the Pennsylvania frack waste, the DEQ giving approval, and several lab reports sampling the radioactive materials.

Posted at the bottom of this article are the documents we obtained from the DEQ.

The liner is identified as coming from “the MCC site” and that the “Range Resource MCC site approvals we just completed generated a box of liner.” Other emails and attached lab reports are for samples taken for “MCC Partners.”

On the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s website oil and gas searchable database called “eFacts,” a search turned up the following five well sites and one pipeline with the name “MCC Partners” which appear to share the same address as Range Resources.

BURKETT WELLS TO MCC PARTNERS PIPELINE (770971)Jefferson Township, Washington Active Water Planning and Conservation
MCC PARTNERS (WEST) UNIT 10H (772460)
3000 TOWN CENTER BLVD
CANONSBURG, PA  15317
Jefferson Township, Washington
Active Oil & Gas
MCC PARTNERS (WEST) UNIT 10H (772460)
3000 TOWN CENTER BLVD
CANONSBURG, PA  15317-5839
Jefferson Township, Washington
Active Oil & Gas
MCC PARTNERS (WEST) UNIT 11H (772461)
3000 TOWN CENTER BLVD
CANONSBURG, PA  15317
Jefferson Township, Washington
Active Oil & Gas
MCC PARTNERS (WEST) UNIT 7H (770612)
3000 TOWN CENTER BLVD
CANONSBURG, PA  15317
Jefferson Township, Washington
Active Oil & Gas
MCC PARTNERS (WEST) UNIT 8H (773836)
3000 TOWN CENTER BLVD
CANONSBURG, PA  15317
Jefferson Township, Washington

A map of the 808 frack sites in Washington County, Pennsylvania can be found here.

In an email to the Michigan DEQ on August 14 requesting the permission to process the liner, a Michigan Disposal Inc./US Ecology company representative in Belleville, Sylwia Chrostowski, states “MDI  [Michigan Disposal Inc.] proposes to manage the liner in its treatment tanks the same way that MDI has managed the TENORM sludge.” She then goes on to describe the dilution or “downblending” process they would employ, breaking the material up into smaller portions, mixing it with other materials to make the concentration of each portion less radioactive. First the pit liner would be cut up into 4 ft x 4 ft sheets. “If the liner tears and cannot be transferred in whole 4′ x 4′ sheets” the company’s back up plan is to gather up the liner using an excavator (bulldozer) and load it into a blending tank at Michigan Disposal Inc. one bucketful at a time.

After downblending, the material would be disposed at the company’s sister disposal site at the same location called Wayne Disposal Inc. Chrostowski states the “size of the liner makes it difficult to sample.” The level of Radium 226 in the liner was measured at 901 pCi/g. The limit for putting into Michigan landfills is 50 pCi/g, for a given container. Materials identified as coming from Range’s Cowden drill pads of “flowback solids” was measured at 570 pCi/g. The 901 pCi/g and 570 pCi/g loads will be traveling on Michigan highways to Belleville.

We don’t know yet how big this liner box is, or where it is currently located. To the best of our knowledge, the two roll-off containers containing the radioactive sludge are still in Pennsylvania on the Carter frack waste impoundment. Those approvals and requests for processing are also indicated in the email exchanges. The radioactive sludge is from a drilling site or sites by the name of Cowden.

The shipment(s) from Pennsylvania, the liner with all of its radioactive components, and the TENORM radioactive sludge still will land in the landfill facility in Belleville in its entirety when all is said and done. It will just be dismembered into smaller pieces mixed in with other stuff.

Protest at the frack waste facility in Belleville and a greeting by the company’s top brass

Soon after Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan arrived at the protest site, a staffer named Joe Weismann, in a blue US Ecology logo shirt, drove out of the facility to talk to us.  He explained that they “take in hazardous material and make it non-hazardous” and that the facility is permitted by both the EPA and the MDEQ. He would not tell us when the truck shipment would arrive because the company keeps information about their clients private. He did not allow us to record him, nor did he have a card or give his contact information. Weismann, as it turns out, was not a security guard. He is vice president of radiological and field services at US Ecology, headquartered in Idaho, their top radiation guy.

How DEQ approves these shipments

DEQ’s Radiological Division chief, Ken Yale, explained in an email on Aug 19: “As background information on how the approval process works:  the Radiological Protection Section (RPS) of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) typically gets an email from Wayne/Michigan Disposal that details a particular shipment they would like to accept for down blending. To show the concentration of Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (TENORM) in the proposed shipment, they include a lab report from an independent lab. If the concentration of TENORM exceeds 50 picocuries/gram radium-226, Wayne/Michigan Disposal request permission to mix the material with inert material until the concentration is below 50 picocuries/gram radium-226. The RPS reviews the lab report and the blending calculations to provide an independent analysis. Once we are satisfied the analysis and calculations are acceptable, we will send an email indicating our approval of the blending process. Once the material is mixed to a concentration below 50 picocuries/gram radium-226, it is below the acceptance limit for any Michigan landfill, but it is placed in Wayne Disposal which is a hazardous waste landfill.”

Michigan DEQ’s Yale said in a phone call the liner is from a container of some kind, not an impoundment or frack drilling pad. US Ecology’s Joe Wiesmann’s answer at the disposal site during the demonstration was that it is from a frack pit liner and that the company regularly takes in such liners from frack sites, explaining how the liners are portable and re-used.

Connecticut bans frack wastes for 3 years

On August 19 the New Haven Register reported that the governor of Connecticut signed a bill banning for 3 years the storage and handling of frack wastes. The state senate passed it unanimously and the house overwhelmingly. New Jersey legislators similarly passed a bill this summer that governor Chris Christie vetoed. An Asbury Park Press (NJ) editorial today “Lawmakers, show backbone on veto” hopes lawmakers override his veto but are afraid they won’t. The editorial mentions the radioactive frack waste story in Michigan.

We don’t want “regulation” of frack wastes, allowing it under certain conditions. We want it banned outright. Anyone who is against frack waste must also be against the activity that creates it–fracking.

Contents of the Freedom of Information Act Request obtained by Ban Michigan Fracking from the DEQ:

Email 1: “Range Cowden” dated August 5, 2014: Chrostowski to Mich DEQ’s Skowronek, requesting to process wastes with Ra-226 at 570 pCi/g

Email 2: “RE Range Cowden” dated August 7, 2014: Chrostowski to Mich DEQ’s Skowronek asking again for review of request of August 5

Email 3: “MCC Flowback Solids” dated August 8, 2014: Chrostowski to Mich DEQ’s Skowronek asking for approval to blend Marcellus Shale flowback solids, some of which are at 901 pCi/g.

Email 4: “RE Range Cowden” dated August 11, 2014: DEQ’s Skowronek to Chrostowski granting permission to process and dispose of the Range Cowden materials requested on Aug 5.

Email 5: “RE MCC Flowback Solids” dated August 11, 2014: DEQ’s Skowonek to Chrostowski granting permission to process and dispose of the MCC Flowback Solids reqeusted on Aug 8.

Email 6: “RE MCC Partners Liner” dated August 18, 2014: DEQ’s David Asselin to Chrostowski granting permission to process and dispose of the liner, and the original request asking for permission to process the liner.

Lab reports:

Cowden report

MCC Partners report

 

 

 

Radioactive frack waste headed to Michigan from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale

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Update 8/17/14: Michigan DEQ tells us that it approved the application for shipment. We are awaiting word as to when the shipment will occur.
Pennsylvania frack operator Range Resources plans to ship radioactive drilling sludge from Marcellus shale frack operations in southwest Pennsylvania to Michigan, according to a PA news site, the Observer-Reporter. Ban Michigan Fracking contacted the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection today and confirmed the shipment is imminent. Pennsylvania DEP spokesman John Poister confirmed that he is just waiting to hear exactly when the shipment will take place, but he expects it to be in a matter of a day or two.

According to the article, “two roll-off boxes holding waste with detectable levels of radiation at a Marcellus Shale impoundment in Mt. Pleasant Township will soon be trucked to Michigan for disposal.” (“Drilling Sludge to be shipped to Michigan” observer-reporter.com, August 13, 2014). The township is located in Washington County, just outside of Pittsburgh. DEP’s Poister is quoted as saying the shipment is a “great deal of material” and cannot legally be deposited in Pennsylvania’s landfill.

So where in Michigan is it heading?

Ken Yale, the division chief of the Radiological Protection division of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, who we spoke to today, said he wasn’t aware of “any new shipment” and that the likely depository is the Wayne Disposal Inc. site, a hazardous waste facility in Van Buren Township in Wayne County, near the Willow Run airport. Unfortunately for Michigan, it is one of two landfills in the nation that will accept such waste. The second one is in Idaho.

The Wayne Disposal/Michigan Disposal site in Belleville, Michigan that takes radioactive wastes from frack sites for processing and disposal. Photo © Ban Michigan Fracking.

The DEQ staffer in the Radiological Protection Division who makes such decisions, Bob Skowronek, contacted BMF on his day off to let us know he is checking into it with the disposal facility.

The material in question has been in limbo for some months now. After landfills in Pennsylvania rejected the waste, Range Resources tried to “quietly” ship the material to a West Virginia landfill which also rejected the material for its high radioactivity, according to a June report by Desmogblog   (“Loopholes enable industry to evade rules on dumping radioactive fracking waste.”). A May news report by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about the situation stated that in the first four months of 2014 “nine loads of shale gas drilling waste had been rejected by Pennsylvania landfills because of higher-than-normal radioactivity.” One of the nine shipments is this material at Range Resources’ “Carter impoundment.” Desmogblog reported that the material amounted to 12 tons of radioactive frack wastes.

Yale of the Michigan DEQ said there have been other shipments of similar materials to the Wayne Disposal Inc. site from other states. Skowronek, the DEQ staffer who approves such shipments, explained that there are two facilities in Michigan that process such radioactive materials. One is US Ecology Michigan, which is authorized to take in radioactive materials (above 50 pico curies) and solidify them for shipment to the Idaho facility, without any prior notification to the MDEQ. Apparently this waste is readily coming into Michigan on a regular basis. The other facility is actually a set of facilities, Wayne Disposal Inc, (the landfill site) and Michigan Disposal Inc, which can take in Radium 226-materials above 50 pico curies per gram and process it to dilute it/combine it with other materials to bring down its level, enabling the waste to be disposed of in the Wayne Disposal Inc landfill. (Both Michigan Disposal Inc. and Wayne Disposal Inc. have been purchased by US Ecology).

We will update this story as we learn more information.

Updated 8/13/14 at 11 pm. Updated 8/17/14.
Correction: an earlier version of this story indicated that Mt. Pleasant Township is in Montgomery county. The correct location is Washington County, PA. 

See also:

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “Two more drilling sites found with Marcellus Shale sludge radioactivity in Washington County: DEP sees no threat.” May 27, 2014. (The comments on this article are also illuminating).

Nuclear Frack Waste Convoys on the website “No Fracking Way”

Freshwater Accountability Project (Ohio)’s report on radioactive frack waste in Ohio, Hydraulic Fracturing Radiological Concerns for Ohio.

An Assessment of the Disposal of Petroleum Industry NORM in NonHazardous Landfills

Pennsylvania’s 2013 Oil and Gas Report

Marcellus Monitor, a blog that has covered some of this story.