New DEQ fracking rules don’t help; we still need a ban

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A frack well in Gladwin County, Wiley 1-81 HD1, in 2012. Photo by LuAnne Kozma.

By Ellis Boal

After public hearings last summer amid the public uproar about fracking, in March 2015 the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals published new administrative rules for oil, gas, and fracking. DEQ provided a link and said the new rules:

contain additional requirements when completing a well using high volume hydraulic fracturing [HVHF] by modifying Rule 201 and adding Part 14 High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing. The revised administrative rules also contained other minor updates related to definitions, injection, and spacing issues.

Since horizontal fracking came to Michigan in 2010, some environmental groups have put all effort into improving sloppy practices, and getting tighter DEQ fracking regulation.

The new rules show the futility of those efforts. If anything, they facilitate more fracking than the old rules.  Protection of public health, the environment, forests, water resources, air, climate, and our communities is still at stake.

The technical details are below.

“Construction of part”

The overall show-stopper is the legislature’s statutory finding at MCL 324.61502. This law will remain in place unless the ballot initiative campaign of the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan succeeds in 2016. Innocuously titled “construction of part” – meaning “how the DEQ is to construe part 615 [the state oil-gas law]” – the finding ends with these words:

It is accordingly the declared policy of the state to protect the interests of its citizens and landowners from unwarranted waste of gas and oil and to foster the development of the industry along the most favorable conditions and with a view to the ultimate recovery of the maximum production of these natural products. To that end, this part is to be construed liberally to give effect to sound policies of conservation and the prevention of waste and exploitation.

Binding on judges, juries, and DEQ regulators, this special-interest provision has been on the books since 1939. Most government agencies treat their regulated industries neutrally. Not so with DEQ and oil-gas. “Fostering” the industry means fostering oil-gas profits. “Maximizing” oil-gas production means maximizing Michigan’s contribution to fossil fuel-driven global warming.

Thus “construction of part” declares a vision statement or ideology, that animates both the old DEQ rules and the new DEQ rules.

The citizen-led ballot initiative will ban horizontal fracking and acidizing in the state, and render the HVHF rules obsolete.

Just as importantly, it will eliminate the oil-gas industry’s special-interest protection. Instead of fostering the industry and maximizing production, the new “construction of part” will say:

It is accordingly the declared policy of the state to protect the interests of its people and environment during gas and oil development. This part is to be construed liberally to give effect to sound policies of conservation and to protect water resources, land, air, climate, human health, and the natural environment.

Terminology and a caveat

Terminology: “Part 615” noted above refers to the oil-gas “part” of Michigan’s overall environmental law known as “Natural Resources and Environmental Protection act” (NREPA), found at MCL 324.101 et seq. Part 327, noted below, is also in NREPA.

The DEQ rules are also divided into “parts,” numbered part 1 through part 14. They are in a different number sequence than the parts of NREPA. Confusingly, the two sets of “parts” have no relation to each other.

The caveat: Many of the new rules refer to “high volume hydraulic fracturing” (HVHF), defined as fracking which uses a total volume of more than 100,000 gallons of primary carrier fluid. HVHF usually occurs in wellbores which are horizontal, but not always. The ballot initiative of the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan by contrast seeks to ban fracking and acidizing in horizontal wellbores, without tying it to a specific volume of primary carrier fluid.

Details on the new rules

  • Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions: On April 27 the Detroit News editorialized against signing the ballot initiative, asserting that the new rules “control methane emissions.” They do not. New rule 1404(1)(c) provides only for testing for methane (and six other chemicals) in water wells which are near HVHF wells. No tests are done for fugitive methane (methane which escapes into the air). Methane is the primary constituent of natural gas, and a potent GHG. Other new rules say nothing and do nothing about Michigan’s contribution to global warming. Comments by Ban Michigan Fracking at last summer’s hearings made particular note that the prohibition of “waste” in MCL 324.61501(q)(ii)(B) does not include air or climate as protected values, and that DEQ’s historic permitting practice has been to monitor only non-GHG emissions.
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This frack well fragmented a state forest in Antrim County, 2011, (State Mancelona 1-28 HD1). Photo by LuAnne Kozma.

  • Cumulative impacts and habitat fragmentation: The new rules say nothing about proliferation and cumulative impacts of wells. The DNR leases oil-gas rights and DEQ permits oil-gas wells separately with no coordination between them. Wells are often located near rivers and streams. In basins with a high density of operations, numerous wellpads in the same watershed compound cumulative impacts of above-ground wellheads, compressors, pipelines, access roads, and associated industry.
  • IMG_0113Wastewater, radioactivity: The new rules have no requirement for geochemical analysis of flowback and produced water, particularly from underground radioactive shale rock typically associated with shale gas.
  • Compulsory pooling of surface owners can now be done after drilling and fracking is done:  Rule 301(1)(d) now allows a permit to be issued and the well drilled on a unit with fractures extending under unleased land — land the fracker does not have the rights to — prior to a hearing being held to see if a dominant leaseholder can force other owners into a pool. The theory under MCL 324.61513(4) is that the leaseholder should not be deprived of a fair share of oil or gas in the pool. Pooling orders are typically justified by the “construction of part” language that requires the state to foster “maximum production” (language which will be eliminated if the ballot initiative succeeds). See this example of a case of compulsory pooling where DEQ relied on “construction of part” to force owners into a drilling unit. The assumption of compulsory pooling is that everyone wants to produce oil or gas from his/her land to the max. If ever accurate historically, the assumption is not uniformly true today. Cosmetically, the new rules also change the term “compulsory pooling” to “statutory pooling,” hiding the fact that landowners are forced into drilling units against their will.
  • Seismic impacts: The new rules have a single passing reference to seismic activity. It is in rule 1202(3)(a), the procedure for petitioning to establish secondary recovery operations. In April, the US Geological Survey linked oil-gas activities to induced earthquakes. The new rules require no seismic precautions.
  • Confidentiality: Rule 416(3) requires operators on request of the DEQ to give it fracking, acidizing, and other well records. But if an operator asks DEQ to hold well data and samples confidential (excepting data on spills, leaks, and chemicals used), DEQ will do so until 90 days after drilling is completed. Confidentiality advances no environmental principle or policy.
  • Spacing and blowouts: When a fracker seeks a special spacing order, rule 303(2) no longer requires that DEQ make sure that the distance between wells prevents interference. Interference can result in a blowout at an adjacent well. DEQ is now content to grant a permit to a well where a blowout could happen.
  • Conformance bonds: Bonds for single wells range between $10k and $30k depending on depth according to rule 212, but the state auditor general found in 2013 the average cost to plug one is $50k+.
  • Hearings on well permits: Rule 201(4) provides for no notice to nearby landowners of fracker applications for well permits, and no hearings or appeals if a permit is granted.
One of the many injection wells used to dispose of horizontal frack wastes in Michigan, the Slowinski injection well in Kalkaska County. Photo by LuAnne Kozma.

One of the many injection wells used to dispose of horizontal frack wastes in Michigan, the Slowinski injection well in Kalkaska County. Photo by LuAnne Kozma.

  • Injection wells: There is no change in rule 102(x), the definition of “injection well.” The rule’s definition includes disposal wells and wells used to inject water “for the purpose of increasing the ultimate recovery of hydrocarbons from a reservoir.” A reservoir is any gas-bearing formation, even if it is solid rock. Injecting to increase recovery is just what frack wells do in the Utica-Collingwood, A-1 carbonate, and other gas-bearing formations. By nature, frack wells are permanent disposal wells of half their own injectate. In 2014 our court of appeals interpreted the rule definition to refer to any well used to increase recovery of hydrocarbons from a reservoir which was already producing before water was injected. Every well in the Utica-Collingwood and A-1 carbonate, and practically every other frack well in the state today, fits that interpretation. Yet DEQ refuses to treat them under the rules for injection wells. Those rules include rule 804 which uses a formula to limit the amount of injection pressure.
  • HVHF: The new rules have an amended part 2 and a new part 14 to cover high volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF). HVHF is defined in rule 1401(h) as fracking which uses a total volume of more than 100,000 gallons of primary carrier fluid.
  • Trade secrets and HVHF: Under rule 201(2)(c), anticipated chemicals in the injectate, and their “chemical abstracts service” (CAS) numbers, must be identified in advance. Under rule 1406(1)(c), the chemicals and CAS numbers actually used have to be listed with FracFocus 30 days after completion. (FracFocus does not operate under a public mandate or verify information submitted to it.) But both requirements have an exception if the fracker simply makes a claim for protection under Michigan’s trade secrets statute, MCL 445.1901 et seq. The trade secrets law does not protect the public from frackers. It protects frackers from each other. Neither the trade secrets law nor the new rules provide a mechanism for a citizen to challenge a fracker’s claim of secrecy.
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    Students protest in Mt. Pleasant, 2012. Photo by LuAnne Kozma.

    Baseline water testing and HVHF: Rule 1404 requires the permit holder to do pre-drilling sampling of water from potable wells near the surface hole, test the samples at a lab for seven chemicals, and give a copy of the lab results to the landowner. No testing for the hundreds of other chemicals identified in frack operations is required. And chemicals in secret mixtures can’t be tested for at all. Sampling in the vicinity of the horizontal laterals, sampling of water levels and flows, sampling of surface waters, splitting samples so the landowner can have half, and doing post-drilling sampling are not required. Nor is sampling required for water wells near gas wells which are not HVHF.

  • Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool and HVHF: Rule 1402 has provisions for protection of water withdrawn for fracking. The rule requires screening by Michigan’s water withdrawal assessment tool (WWAT), adopted in 2008 by the legislature in MCL 324.32701 et seq (or NREPA part 327). If a fracker’s withdrawal request fails WWAT screening, it may request a site-specific review. DEQ would then take a closer look and decide whether to approve withdrawal. In the past, DEQ has routinely approved permits even when the WWAT test “fails.” WWAT screening has problems. It estimates surface water flows from just 147 gauged stream segments around the state. The gauges tend to be on medium- and large-sized streams, not sensitive headwaters. WWAT has not been updated since 2008. It was developed to deal with long-term withdrawals like agricultural irrigation, not the short-term intensive withdrawals required for fracking. WWAT cannot assess the potential impacts on habitat, wildlife, and nearby waters receiving site runoff. It does not account for water withdrawal impacts to wetlands and lakes. It cannot measure potential changes in surface runoff patterns due to the clearing of land and road construction. It overestimates stream flow (and so underestimates adverse effects). Academics have criticized it.
  • Use of WWAT and HVHF: Even were WWAT a valid screening device, DEQ misuses it. Two big frack wells were permitted in 2011, State Excelsior 1-13 HD1 and State Excelsior 1-25 HD1. Both wells failed WWAT screening according to the linked DEQ paperwork for the wells. That triggered a site-specific review by DNR water specialist David Deyoung. Deyoung gave the go-ahead and permits were granted. But according to pages 84-87 and 108-113 respectively of the paperwork, he gave no reasoning, did not consider the stream or river flow data of affected stream reaches, and did not even state he visited the sites.

To protect Michigan from harm, we must use the Precautionary Principle and do no harm. Rules by which to frack, only lead us down the road to more and increased fracking across the state.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over 2200 tons of Pennsylvania frack waste dumped in Michigan

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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.

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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

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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.

 

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