For several years, New York made headlines by continuing to delay (and delay…) the decision whether to allow shale gas development. Then the state made history last December by saying no because the risks to health and the environment were too great.
Yet it’s impossible to escape the reach of the national shale gas and oil boom. Even with a prohibition on production, New York has to wrestle with a growing stream of waste coming across state borders (as well as an expanding spider web of infrastructure and oil trains).
Which is why communities and advocates are demanding that New York takes another step to truly safeguard the state from the many impacts of fracking.
Bills now before the Assembly (A-6859) and Senate (S-884) would ensure that any gas field waste that meet the state’s definition of “hazardous” would be managed as such. That seems logical, but isn't the case today. New York law specifically excludes all waste generated by the oil and gas industry from ever being defined, and therefore managed, as hazardous.
Records from Pennsylvania indicate that operators send production brine to New York for road-spreading and drill cuttings and muds to New York landfills. Yet virtually nothing is being done to detect or manage the chemicals and toxic substances (or radioactivity) that the waste may contain. At the same time, it’s left up to drillers and landfill operators to decide how to define the waste, which largely isn’t tracked or reported.
New York isn't alone in having such risky policy. As Earthworks documented in our recent report on the Marcellus and Utica Shale gas waste stream, it’s been easy for drillers and states to manage waste irresponsibly because federal law allows them to.
Nearly 30 years ago, the US Environmental Protection Agency determined that oil and gas wastes were exempt from the nation’s solid and hazardous waste law, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. At the time, and in the years since, EPA has stated that nevertheless, some oil and gas waste certainly meets the definition of hazardous.
New York (and many other states) can choose to close this gaping loophole for polluters. Many communities have already decided that frack waste is too dangerous to accept. Both of the current “uniform treatment of waste” bills have enough co-sponsors to pass if legislative leaders would agree to bring them up for a vote. It's critical that concerned citizens take action now to make this happen.
It’s high time to get honest about gas field waste and call it what it is. New York should once again declare that water, air, land, and health must be protected—and once again make fracking history.