March 22, 2016

As the horizontal hydrofracking industry continues to operate without adequate regulation, the waste produced is a big problem for the industry for which Ohio has provided a cheap solution. Ohio not only allows waste from in-state fracking operations to be disposed of without traceability, monitoring and adequate regulation, it also is accepting waste from other states. Recently, plans were approved to allow the barge shipment of frack waste on the Ohio River, meaning frack waste could potentially come to Ohio from Texas and other states who find it easier and cheaper to send it to Ohio than dispose of it themselves.

The lack of regulation means Ohio will be the fracking waste destination of choice ahead of all other states. Although frack waste is toxic and radioactive, it is still falsely but legally classified as “non-hazardous,” which allows it to be cheaply disposed of in Class II injection wells. In addition to the injection wells, there are many other frack waste handling facilities in operation. Without regulations in place, these facilities are given “Chief’s Orders” to operate which means that the companies handling the waste, many of them limited liability corporations, can do business without the necessary regulations for public protections. Despite the fact that Food & Water Watch and FreshWater Accountability Project (FWAP) initiated a lawsuit to compel the overseeing agency, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), to implement necessary rules to govern these facilities, that lawsuit is languishing in the court system. In fact, of the 20 rules that Ohio stated needed to be implemented to govern the fracking industry and its waste to protect the environment and public health, only one has been implemented, which has to do with the construction of well pads. Despite the fact that several laws have been enacted to write these rules and provide better tracking and reporting, the industry still operates without the necessary regulations.

For the public to know what frack waste handling facilities are operating without the necessary regulations in their communities, citizens must do public records requests and wait for the information to piece together what companies are doing with the frack waste, where they are located, and how they operate. Because they are private companies, the most important information communities need to know to protect themselves, such how much waste is being handled, what are the test results for toxicity and radioactivity (if tested), and where the frack material comes from and ends up are not available. Without the necessary regulations to do the reporting, it is possible that at this time, inadequate monitoring means radioactive frack waste is being transported, processed and disposed of in ways that could bio-accumulate and leach into the soil, water and be released into the air without the knowledge of the local communities that will be affected. This means there is no way to hold the frack waste processors or the overseeing agency, the ODNR, accountable for public health effects or future remediation.

Through a public records request, FWAP was able to obtain information on an additional 16 facilities given ODNR Chief’s Orders and have posted the information to share with the public at: Local communities are urged to investigate for themselves what the potential impacts could be from these unregulated facilities, and get involved to protect themselves, their environment, and their quality of life. FWAP will continue to make public records requests about these facilities and post the information. Having limited information about these facilities is better than nothing, but the ODNR should be more transparent so communities know there are toxic waste handling facilities in their midst in order to protect themselves, especially without the adequate regulations in place that are necessary to do so.

Other states are sending frack waste to Ohio because of lax regulations. Per a New York Times expose of confidential documents obtained from the — USEPA: “The disposal of wastewater is
called a “bottleneck” here because the type of natural gas production used in Pennsylvania requires massive amounts of water, which is mixed with chemicals. Much of this water, which can be made toxic by the chemicals as well as harmful substances deep in the earth, flows back out of the gas well. The document is raising concerns that Pennsylvania does not have enough capacity to process this drilling wastewater.” In Pennsylvania, where unconventional shale gas drilling waste is regulated by — USEPA Region 3, their oversight means that the state cannot so readily process or dispose of frack waste. Their solution? Send it to Ohio for cheap disposal. The increasing number of LLC’s that are being licensed to operate through ODNR “Chief’s Orders” to process frack waste are potential public health and waste remediation liabilities for the future. Local communities are urged to look into these facilities and find ways to protect their environment and public health by closely monitoring air and water quality near these facilities.