New York faces a growing volume of oil and gas waste from both conventional operations in New York and unconventional shale operations in Pennsylvania. Despite being toxic and potentially hazardous and radioactive, waste from oil and gas operations—such as drill cuttings, fracturing fluids, muds, and used fracturing sand—often end up in landfills for disposal. Once there, contaminants may leak into soil and eventually groundwater supplies.
The New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) doesn’t have any public data on the oil and gas waste stream, so it’s impossible to know how much is being produced in the state or where it ends up. But according to data from Pennsylvania, between 2010 until mid-2015, nearly 600,000 tons of solid waste and over 23,000 barrels of liquid waste from that state were accepted by New York landfills. At the same time, road-spreading and waste treatment companies in New York took over 55,000 barrels of fluids from Pennsylvania.
In early 2016, DEC proposed revisions to its regulations on solid waste and landfills, which provides the opportunity to change some aspects of how oil and gas waste is managed. This is necessary because current regulations on oil and gas waste date back to the 1970s-1990s. These rules don't address the current realities of a growing volume of waste, new production practices, and potential impacts on water, soil, land, wildlife, and health.
The proposed revisions include important changes that should be supported, such as new tracking requirements for drilling waste and stronger testing and storage standards for landfill leachate. But Earthworks and partner organizations want DEC to go much further.