Protest frack waste expansion in Detroit

Download PDF
Protest Against Radioactive Fracking Waste

Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan volunteers, Ban Michigan Fracking, Metro Detroiters for Bernie, and residents in the nearby community from Hamtramck and Detroit around the Detroit US Ecology hazardous waste facility gathered for a protest October 3. Photo: Jim West.

By LuAnne Kozma

Forty-five activists and community members gathered on October 3, 2015 at the US Ecology hazardous waste facility in Detroit to protest expansion of the facility. They included nearby residents from Detroit and Hamtramck, retirees, nurses, professors, lawyers, students, engineers, photographers, teachers, former and current city workers, a Detroit school board member, and retired postal workers.

In addition to Ban Michigan Fracking, the groups Beyond Nuclear, Don’t Waste Michigan, Metro Detroiters for Bernie, Carrie Rogge Block Club, Great Lakes Water Protection Committee, Detroit Workers Voice, and Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, joined members of a local mosque and volunteers of Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan from around the state.

Protest Against Radioactive Fracking Waste

Photo by Jim West.

The Detroit facility, which processes frack wastes, has applied to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to expand its operations tenfold.

Ban Michigan Fracking has reported on the amount of frack waste coming to Detroit from Pennsylvania for many months (*see below). The Detroit Free Press reported on the expansion on September 11, and the DEQ’s public comment deadline the next day, Saturday, September 12.  BMF wrote public comments to the DEQ, demanding an extension of the public comment period, demanding that DEQ deny the permit, and discussing the harms of radioactive frack wastes and TENORM.

We Demand a Public Hearing by DEQ

IMG_0338

Nearby residents concerned about the frack waste expansion and harm to families. Photo by LuAnne Kozma.

The DEQ granted the extension of the public comment period to October 12, but no public hearing has been planned. BMF encourages people to write DEQ and demand a public hearing. The nearby community and all Michigan residents deserve to be heard. Write comments to: Richard Conforti, MDEQ, at confortir@michigan.gov or by mail c/o DEQ, P.O. Box 30241, Lansing, Michigan, 48909-7741.

US Ecology admits liquid wastes are going into the Detroit sewer system; Michigan DEQ denies it

The Detroit Free Press reported on September 11:

In an e-mailed response to Free Press inquiries, US Ecology spokesman David Crumrine said there have been no adverse environmental impacts during the 40 years the plant has operated. The plant takes hazardous and non-hazardous, solid and liquid wastes from the automotive, steel, plating and other area industries, as well as retail wastes, he said. Waste is treated to remove or stabilize its hazards as required by state and federal regulations, and then shipped for disposal at offsite landfills. Liquids are treated until they are safe to dispose of via the Detroit wastewater treatment plant. [emphasis added]

This was startling news, and what BMF had speculated for some time. The company’s admission was proof that wastewater from processing hazardous wastes at the site — 40% of which comes from out of state — goes directly into the public water and sewerage system.

Why else bring out-of-state frack wastes for processing to Detroit? When liquid wastes that are too hot radioactively to be disposed of here — DEQ’s Ken Yale has told BMF that wastes are solidified in Detroit first and then shipped for disposal at US Ecology facilities in Idaho — are brought here on their way west, there’s got to be a practical reason. Why wouldn’t Pennsylvania’s frack wastes be sent directly from Pennsylvania to Idaho?

DEQ’s Conforti denied that US Ecology is putting wastes into the Detroit Water and Sewerage System, as quoted in the Detroit News:  “Nothing will be released into the water supply — Lake Huron or the Detroit River.”

Other groups, such as the American Human Rights Coalition, based in Dearborn, are also opposed to the expansion.  AHRC is raising community awareness and demanding answers to what impact the expansion would have on the Detroit water system.

Dealing with the contaminated and radioactive waste is getting to be a real problem for the fracking/oil and gas industry. According to industry site Fuel Fix: “EPA to block drillers from sending wastewater to municipal treatment plants“:

“In Pennsylvania, drillers are worried about a double whammy — that EPA will follow up its currently proposed zero-discharge rule for municipal treatment plants with another standard blocking them from sending fluids to centralized facilities too.”

Which could pose a problem for facilities like US Ecology.

Speakers at the Protest

Protest Against Radioactive Fracking Waste

Local resident Ronnie Mixon, who also spoke at the protest. Photo: Jim West.

* Kevin Kamps, radioactive waste watchdog from Beyond Nuclear, gave some background on how harmful radioactivity is to human health.

Elena Herrada, a member of the Detroit School Board told the crowd that the school board passed a resolution that the DEQ deny the permit, in light of harm to Detroit school children.

Dawn DeRose, of the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan, gave an urgent pitch for volunteers to sign up to get signatures to get the Committee’s ban initiative on the 2016 ballot before the November deadline.

Protest Against Radioactive Fracking Waste

Photo by Jim West.

The signature deadline is in November. The Committee reported in September collecting over 100,000 signatures toward the 252,523 requirement and intends to make it on the ballot. The ballot initiative would ban the processing and storage of frack wastes.

 

 

* In December 2014 we reported on the wastes coming from Pennsylvania to US Ecology in Detroit reported by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection :

Detroit got the worst of it. Over 1,466 tons of “flowback fracturing sand” went to the US Ecology facility at 6520 Georgia Street, near Hamtramck which is the former Dynecol facility. The Marcellus shale frack wastes came from horizontal frack wells in a host of Pennsylvania counties–Butler, Clarion, Clearfield, Fayette, Greene, Indiana and Westmoreland–all in 2011 and 2012, but not reported until 2014. The former Dynecol site, which was a hazardous liquid waste processing facility in operation since 1974 “for the Midwest US and Canadian industrial markets,” is now owned by US Ecology, which bought it in 2012, around the same time the frack wastes were brought to Detroit. The company now carries out a number of hazardous operations with radioactive waste, including, according to the DEQ, processing of radioactive frack wastes which are solidified and then shipped to a facility in Idaho. What parts from that “processing” remain in Detroit? We wish we knew. – See more at: http://banmichiganfracking.org/?m=201412#sthash.qJ2D2iNW.dpuf

Other sources on radioactive wastes and: Rachel Treichler, attorney from New York, has this list of sources, “Materials on Radioactivity in Gas and Gas Drilling Waste.”

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

Download PDF

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over 2200 tons of Pennsylvania frack waste dumped in Michigan

Download PDF
IMG_1597

Waste disposal company A-1 Northern in Kalkaska received over 400 tons of frack wastes from Pennsylvania. Photo by Ban Michigan Fracking.

We’ve known this for a while now, but it’s time  to get it out there: Michigan is fast becoming a frack waste state.

Part of the story is that Michigan facilities are taking in wastes from other states.

The other part is that the frack industry generated huge amounts of wastes from Michigan frack wells.

The startling news about out of state frack waste is that  over 2,200 tons of frack waste from Pennsylvania have come to Michigan in three counties: Wayne, Monroe and Kalkaska.

We learned of this by searching the State of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection’s “oil and gas reporting” website. That the State of Michigan Dept of Environmental Quality Office of Oil Gas and Minerals neither tracks the disposal of frack wastes–generated in Michigan or elsewhere–nor provides the information to the public as Pennsylvania does, is troubling.

The Michigan facilities are headquartered in the communities of Van Buren Township,  Kalkaska, Detroit and Erie, but exact disposal facilities are not known for the Kalkaska wastes.

Van Buren Township: The Belleville-area twin processing and landfill facilities now owned by US Ecology, called Michigan Disposal and Wayne Disposal, accepted 20.42 tons of drill cuttings (which is TENORM: Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occuring Radioactive Materials) from a Greene County, Pennsylvania horizontal well in 2010 (PA reported it in 2014). And another 315.75 tons of “flowback fracturing sand” from several horizontal wells in Greene County were brought to Wayne Disposal at various times from 2010 through 2013 (but not reported by PA until 2014). See our four stories earlier this year on this website about Michigan Disposal/Wayne Disposal. We do not yet know the final disposition of the radioactive sludge approved for shipment to Wayne Disposal. Story 1, Story 2, Story 3, Story 4.

Kalkaska: Over 400 tons of “flowback fracturing sand” landed in Kalkaska County, according to the State of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection website. The materials came from Marcellus shale unconventional wells in Greene and Washington Counties in southwest PA outside of Pittsburgh. Chevron Appalachia LLC is the operator.  The wastes went to A-1 Northern (pictured above), an oil/gas waste disposal company, although the exact facility location is not specified. The disposal method is described as “storage pending disposal or reuse.”

Detroit: Detroit got the worst of it. Over 1,466 tons of “flowback fracturing sand” went to the US Ecology facility at 6520 Georgia Street, near Hamtramck which is the former Dynecol facility. The Marcellus shale frack wastes came from horizontal frack wells in a host of Pennsylvania counties–Butler, Clarion, Clearfield, Fayette, Greene, Indiana and Westmoreland–all in 2011 and 2012, but not reported until 2014. The former Dynecol site, which was a hazardous liquid waste processing facility in operation since 1974 “for the Midwest US and Canadian industrial markets,” is now owned by US Ecology, which  bought it in 2012, around the same time the frack wastes were brought to Detroit. The company now carries out a number of hazardous operations with radioactive waste, including, according to the DEQ, processing of radioactive frack wastes which are solidified and then shipped to a facility in Idaho. What parts from that “processing” remain in Detroit? We wish we knew.

Erie: And then there’s the Vienna Junction Landfill on the Erie, MI/Toledo, OH border which also has accepted frack waste from Pennsylvania. According to the PA Department of Environmental Protection website again, Vienna Junction took in 6,085.21 tons of frack wastes from horizontal wells located in Tioga County in the reporting period July – December 2012. We’re not including this tonnage in our headline, since we don’t know how much of it landed in Michigan versus Ohio. But it’s close enough to affect Monroe County residents.

These Pennsylvania statistics are just for the first half of 2014. We’ll update this article when the data for the rest of the year becomes available.

That’s just the wastes from one state. Undoubtedly there is more coming here, with regional facilities in Detroit and Belleville that are designed to be regional “hubs” for the industry.

IMG_1602

Westerman well in Kalkaska County, Michigan. Photo by Ban Michigan Fracking.

The frack industry in Michigan is also producing its own wastes from operations here. We visited the Waters Landfill in Crawford County this year (pictured below), where solid frack wastes such as drill cuttings (which are classified as radioactive TENORM) are brought. Again, no records are kept by Michigan DEQ on their website. The landfills are not public in many cases. And putting together the picture of where all this frack waste is going is next to impossible.

Waters Landfill

The landfill in Waters, Crawford County, Michigan. Photo by Ban Michigan Fracking.

According to an article by Environment 360 at Yale University, an organization called Downstream Strategies attempted to trace fracking waste from Washington County PA and sites across the US and where it ends up and found they “just couldn’t do it.”

Frack wastes are also brought to Michigan class II injection wells (a total of 1,460, of which 654 the EPA says are for disposal, while the DEQ says disposal wells number 888. Any of Michigan’s old oil or gas wells can also be used for disposal of frack wastes and turned into injection wells). We will report on injection wells in Michigan in an upcoming article.

NY Bans fracking with CBFM logoThe Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan’s ballot initiative would BAN frack wastes from other states from being processed, disposed or stored in Michigan. To make a contribution to the Committee, go to www.letsbanfracking.org.

 

PDF’s of the downloaded reports from the Pennsylvania DEP website:

Kalkaska: Kalkaska–WasteByWasteFacilityExport_Y_N_198306_2014-1 WasteByWasteFacilityExport_Y_N_

DetroitDetroit–WasteByWasteFacilityExport_Y_N_198307_2014-1-5

Van Buren Township: Wayne Disposal–WasteByWasteFacilityExport_Y_N_198309_2014-1 Wayne Disposal–WasteByWasteFac

Erie: Vienna Junction WasteByWasteFacilityExport_Y_N_198194_2012-2-2 Vienna Junction WasteByWasteFac

 

No public representative on Michigan radioactive frack waste TENORM panel

Download PDF

Meetings in Secret

Remember the panel the Governor set up to review the state’s disposal procedures on radioactive frack waste? Well, it’s meeting already, but meetings are not open to the public.

Apparently the panel members were named and the panel got started without fanfare, and without the public being allowed to attend its first meeting on September 22.

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

Ken Yale, the head of the DEQ’s Radiological division, who is also on the panel, told me yesterday that because they are a “pre-deliberative body” the state is not required to hold public meetings in accordance with the Michigan Open Meetings Act.

The Governor’s TENORM waste panel has a former DEQ radiology employee as representing “the public” 

And there’s another blow to transparency and public participation. One panel member was to represent the DEQ–and that’s Ken Yale himself. Another member was to represent the public. According to this September 22 press release by the DEQ, it lists Dave Minnaar, of Middleville, as the person “representing the public.”

Minnaar isn’t from the affected communities near frack waste sites, and he’s not simply someone from “the public.” In fact, he’s a former DEQ employee. Minnaar was one of the contributing specialists to the report An Assessment of the Disposal of Petroleum Industry NORM in Nonhazardous Landfills, which brought us the disposal standards the State is now using, along with his co-worker Bob Skwronek, who today makes the approvals on the radioactive wastes coming in to Michigan.

In this Argus-Press news article from January 1990, Blanchard says Michigan can handle nuke waste, Minnaar is quoted as the deputy chief of radiological health for the state Department of Health, saying that Low Level Radioactive Waste storage facilities (being proposed back then) pose no threat to public health. The group that fought the Low Level Radioactive Waste site during those years, Don’t Waste Michigan is also quoted in the story. I contacted an activist involved in that fight yesterday and he remembers Minnaar as one of the biggest salesman for the nuke dump.

Minnaar was one of the key DEQ employees who handled the bizarre incident in 1994-95 of the “radioactive Boy Scout,” a Detroit area teenager who assembled and worked with highly radioactive materials in his backyard. In the clean-up, the most radioactive materials, including radium and thorium, were thrown away into the household refuse (and into a local landfill) by his parents before the DEQ had the chance to haul away a bunch of barrels out west for disposal.

Expertise aside, as a former DEQ employee responsible for overseeing the very disposal methods the state uses, this appointment is not the same as having someone “from the public” on the panel.

But as DEQ spokesperson Brad Wurfel has already declared, this panel’s recommendations are a forgone conclusion anyway: “the review panel will conclude that existing Michigan standards are appropriate.” Wurfel’s admission that this is a charade is quite bald.

 

Update on radioactive frack wastes in Michigan

Download PDF

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.