Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Dep Changes Rules for Oil, Gas Sludge at Landfills

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Dep Changes Rules for Oil, Gas Sludge at Landfills

Article excerpt

A change in the rules for landfills accepting fracking fluid sludges could mean higher prices for disposal, and more oil and gas waste going out of state.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, concerned that concentrated frack fluid waste wasn't being adequately diluted at state landfills over the past several years, instituted a new policy starting Jan. 1.

Annual limits for accepting low-level radioactive waste from oil and gas operations were changed to monthly caps to ensure that such waste was properly mixed with non-radioactive waste at a ratio of 1:50.

The DEP told landfills that, after reviewing disposal patterns, it found spikes during certain times of year, which undermined its dilution strategy for such waste.

Landfills that accept this radioactive waste are governed by a formula spelled out in a spreadsheet that takes into consideration the total tonnage and the concentration of radioactive elements.

In a letter to landfills dated Dec. 29, the DEP added another variable to that formula. For all fracking fluid sludges resulting from concentrating flowback water, there is now a multiplier of three embedded into the spreadsheet. So if a landfill accepts 1 ton of sludge, it will count as 3 tons.

"The isotope of concern here is radon," said Kenneth Reisinger, director of DEP's bureau of waste management.

Radon, which in high enough concentrations is a leading cause of lung cancer and is particularly plentiful in Pennsylvania, is a decay product of radium, which is found in oil and gas waste.

The DEP sets its limits for landfills with that in mind. Specifically, it works backwards from a widely accepted recommendation that human exposure to radiation should be below 100 millirems per year and that no more than 25 percent of that should come from any particular source.

So, using a 25 millirem per year threshold for radon, the DEP calculates how much low-level radioactive waste would be acceptable to mix into a landfill so that 1,000 years from now, a person living in house built on that landfill wouldn't exceed the recommended exposure rate. …

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