Michigan says “bring it on” to more radioactive frack wastes

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2.13_frack_1.2Today Gov. Rick Snyder’s panel on radioactive waste, which met in secret last fall, issued its report, clearing the way for Michigan to continue taking radioactive frack sludge and other frack wastes to sites in Belleville and Detroit owned by US Ecology. An agreement made by the frack waste company, which operates a Detroit waste processing facility and a processing and Class I landfill facility in Van Buren Township, and the State was to hold off on taking in frack wastes until after the report was issued.  That day is here.

The Detroit News reported the release of the panel’s paper today: Mich. panel: no changes in handling radioactive sludge.

The TENORM panel came about after Ban Michigan Fracking broke the story in August that 36 tons of Pennsylvania radioactive frack sludge, held up for weeks with nowhere to go, were approved for disposal in Michigan by Michigan DEQ officials.

Radioactive frack sludge in Washington County, held for months at a Range Resource waste impoundment site, is now off the site and gone to who knows where. Submitted photo.

The 36 tons of radioactive frack sludge from PA sat here for months and then disappeared. Submitted photo.

 

 

The 36 tons of  radioactive frack sludge in Washington County, PA held for months at a Range Resource waste impoundment site, was what alarmed us and eventually caused Gov Rick Snyder’s kneejerk reaction to create the TENORM panel. The containers of frack sludge were moved off site some time ago and its final deposition is not known at this time. It did not go to a US Ecology facility in Michigan . . . yet.

Soon after, the Detroit Free Press blasted the news of the PA radioactive waste on its front page. We and volunteers from Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan held a vigil waiting for the trucks (that never came) at the landfill/processing facility in Van Buren Township, near Belleville, last August. US Ecology’s top radiology guy, Joe Weismann, came out to greet us, after reading this website from all the way out in Idaho. He came to Michigan to do damage control. . . and presumably at that time made the deal with the governor to quiet things down for a while. Weismann did a dog and pony show type presentation to  Van Buren Township residents at a township meeting. He was on the TENORM panel.

Ban Michigan Fracking did more investigating about the 36 tons of radioactive frack sludge and FOIA’d the DEQ for the tests of its radioactive content. We also learned about the industry’s system of diluting the high radioactive content by simply mixing it up with inert materials, and depositing all of it into the landfill that way. The 36 tons was  moved to some undisclosed location in late October. DEQ confirmed with us today that the 36 tons have not yet come to the US Ecology facility in Belleville. It was also the last request for radioactive frack waste disposal that came to the Michigan DEQ from US Ecology.

Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan members protest outside frack waste facility near Belleville, August 2014.

Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan members protest outside frack waste facility near Belleville, August 2014.

The Detroit Free Press did a lot more investigating of the Michigan Disposal/Wayne Disposal landfill, too, finding a history of violations, fines and fires. We dug up the records from Pennsylvania as to what’s come to Belleville and found over 20 tons of drill cuttings and about 315 tons of “flowback fracturing sand,” all from Greene County in Pennsylvania’s southwestern edge where the frack industry is ravaging people’s health.

The governor’s panel, which evaluated the DEQ’s current system of taking in radioactive wastes and saw virtually nothing wrong with it, (as DEQ spokesperson Brad Wurfel predicted) came up with a handful of recommendations that the state could “consider” changing. Such as shuffling around the placement of radioactive waste within a landfill. It also had a former DEQ staffer as the person “representing the public.” We’ll take a better look at the report in the next weeks and make more comments.

And you can too. Michigan DEQ issued a press release that the department will take public comments on the report in a 30-day comment period starting today. Comments can be submitted by email to DEQ-TENORMPublicComments@michigan.gov, or by mail to 525 W. Allegan St., Lansing, MI, 48933.

NY Bans fracking with CBFM logo

Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan, the ballot question committee with hundreds of volunteers from around the state, is more resolved than ever to stop these wastes from coming into the state. The Committee is actively pursuing a ballot initiative that for two years now has rallied voters to ban fracking and frack wastes at the next statewide election in 2016. Frack wastes going to facilities in places such as the Belleville landfill, a waste processing facility in Detroit (also owned by US Ecology), and in the hundreds of injection wells and landfills throughout the state, would be banned once the proposal is passed. To volunteer for, and donate to, the ballot initiative, go to www.LetsBanFracking.org.

The Michigan DEQ does not keep or provide the public any records on the amounts, types, or locations of frack wastes being generated, emitted, processed, treated, stored, or dumped in the state. Any landfill in Michigan can accept radioactive wastes as long as it’s diluted 50 picocuries/gram with other materials. In December we reported on the 2,200 tons of frack waste from Pennsylvania dumped in Michigan based on Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection’s database, which tracks the waste.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Update on radioactive frack wastes in Michigan

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Numerous trucks went in and out of the Michigan Disposal facility in Belleville when we picketed for 9 hours on August 21. Several of the loads were these “roll off containers” similar to the ones used for radioactive frack sludge. Photo by LuAnne Kozma.

by LuAnne Kozma

Election-year politics seems to have intervened temporarily with the radioactive frack wastes from Washington County, Pennsylvania (where the wastes remain).  Governor Rick Snyder announced on August 25 that he is creating a panel to “review disposal standards” of the state’s radioactive waste. Additionally the company taking in the radioactive materials from Pennsylvania said it would temporarily suspend additional shipments until the panel’s review is complete.

MLive noted Michigan DEQ spokesperson Brad Wurfel’s prediction that “the review panel will conclude that existing Michigan standards are appropriate.” Wurfel’s admission that this is a charade is quite bald.

For his part, Democratic challenger Mark Schauer, who never mentions fracking whatsoever, opportunistically stated on his website that only out-of-state radioactive waste is his issue: “We can’t allow Michigan to be a dumping ground for radioactive waste that other states won’t allow in their own landfills.” Which is partly good, and of course it’s politically correct to not like radioactive waste, except that he doesn’t cover radioactive frack waste created locally.

Tonight in Van Buren Township: presentation by Wayne Disposal to calm people’s fears about the radioactive wastes in their backyards

The Belleville Independent reports that tonight, September 2, the director of the landfill, Wayne Disposal, will make a presentation at the Van Buren Township meeting and answer questions.  The public has to put the questions on cards. Township supervisor Linda Combs told the newspaper radioactive shipments from frack wastes were announced October 1, 2014 after public hearings and EPA approval. The local paper reported earlier this year that the landfill’s liner had ripped. In two articles about the torn liner, dated January 2  and February 7, it reported that Wayne Disposal does not take in radioactive waste.

What’s in radioactive frack sludge, anyway?

Here’s one study of the stuff:

Rich AL and Crosby EC, “Analysis of reserve pit sludge from unconventional natural gas hydraulic fracturing and drilling operations for the presence of technically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material (TENORM),” New Solut. 2013;23(1):117-35. doi: 10.2190/NS.23.1.h.

Michigan frackers are producing frack wastes and it’s not tested for radioactivity

Back in 2011 we tried to get more information from the Michigan DEQ regarding the frack wastes that were being created by Michigan’s impending frack industry. We were told in a series of emails from MDEQ’s Paul Jankowski that “there are no rules requiring an oil/gas field waste disposal well to test for radioactivity.”  In this series of questions, we got the following answers:

BMF: Does this mean there is no rule requiring disposal well operators to test material for radioactivity before disposing of it into the well?

Jankowski: Correct.

BMF: And is there also no rule requiring that gas wells test flowback before sending it to a disposal well?

Jankowski: Correct.

On Michigan drilling permits, the operator states if there is a “reserve pit” and whether the materials will be “solidified on site.”   If there is a landfill where the materials are to be brought, the landfill is sometimes named.

For reference: Michigan Disposal Inc’s website, with permits

Media articles about the radioactive frack sludge:

Matheny, Keith, “Michigan landfill operator suspends receipt of low-level radioactive waste,” Detroit Free Press, August 25, 2014.

Ortzman, Rosemary, “Wayne Disposal official to bring information to Sept 2 VBT board meeting,” Belleville Independent, August 28, 2014.

Smith, Heather, “Frackers are sending sludge to the mitten state,” Grist, August 19, 2014.

 

 

 

 

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.