Spills are threat to surface water in Ohio

Spills are threat to surface water in Ohio

Once again Ohio’s politicians are promoting another set of bills that will harm the health of the residents of the state and contribute to long-term contamination of the environment. HB 282 and SB 171 “would enact section 1509.228 of the Ohio Revised Code to establish conditions and requirements for the sale of brine from oil and gas operations as a commodity and to exempt that commodity from requirements otherwise applicable for brine.”

The main benefactors of this legislation would be the owner of the company that sells AquaSalina, a substance made from waste brine, and the oil and gas industry that generates millions of gallons of toxic brine that will be used to make a deicer or a substance to control road dust.

The wastes from oil and gas exploration are already exempt from the Federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act under Section C; however, that exemption admits this does not mean “these wastes would not present a hazard to human health and the environment.” If these bills become law, there will be no regulations in place that allow for tracking of the brine. Both the Ohio Department of Transportation and the Ohio Turnpike have used brine deicers.

These bills specify the amounts of contaminates (elemental and aromatic hydrocarbons) that can be present in this product. Most far exceed the ranges specified in the Safe Drinking Water Act including 20,000 picocuries of Radium-226 and 2,500 picocuries of Radium-228 per liter. The SDWA allows for 5.0 picocuries a liter for both isotopes combined. Once oil and gas brine is extracted from deep rock strata, it is able to release water-soluble Radium-226 and Radium-228 to the environment. Radium is a gamma emitter that can cause bone cancer.

Studies show “nearly all of road salt eventually enters adjacent rivers, streams and aquifers with detrimental impacts to both ecosystem function and drinking water supplies.” Additionally, we know from studies that road salt has found its way into private water wells. The use of this product will increase the likelihood of human contact.

Proponents of the bills cite one report by the Ohio Health Department, a report that was not backed by peer-reviewed analysis to assert the safety of the brine. However, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Safety Section found brine samples from six locations in Ohio to exceed the state’s “discharge to environment limits.”

Isotopes decay with different resulting breakdown products. They can release alpha, beta or gamma radiation. Radium releases gamma radiation and is carcinogenic while the Potassium-40 in a banana releases an extremely low amount of alpha radiation and is not dangerous. Only one out of every 10,000 potassium atoms is in the form of the isotopic Potassium-40. However, gamma radiation from Radium-226 decay is extremely penetrating and damaging, and the decay product of Radium-226 is Radon gas, known for its ability to cause lung cancer.

Except for a few medical tests, most Ohio residents will only be exposed to naturally occurring background radiation. This may not be the case if the spreading of brine, containing up to 20,000 picocuries of water-soluble Radium-226, is allowed to occur throughout the state. Our surface water needs protection. Call your politicians and express your concerns about HB 282 and SB 171.

On May 4 there was a public meeting via Zoom about the Falcon Pipeline. This meeting covered recent events surrounding the 97-mile pipeline whose segment from Cadiz to Scio cuts through the eastern end of the watershed of the Tappan Reservoir, a reservoir that supplies drinking water to residents in the area. This pipeline is not supplying methane for energy production. It is a private pipeline being built to supply fracked ethane gas to the Shell Monaca ethane cracker plant. This plant will make polyethylene for single-use plastics.

Recent investigations and information obtained from whistle-blowers point to several issues occurring during the construction of this pipeline (see Pittsburgh Post-Gazette March 17, 2021). Patrick McDonnel, secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, said he “had credible information that some sections of Shell Pipelines Falcon project may have been constructed with defective corrosion coating protection.”

According to the FracTracker Alliance and Fair Shake Environmental Legal Services, the pipeline has encountered “construction difficulties” since construction began in 2019. There have been 70 reports of lost drilling fluids underground. In 20 of those incidents, the lost fluid erupted from underground, spilling 5,500 gallons on the surface.

A whistle-blower reported a release of millions of gallons of drilling fluid from an area in Jefferson County, Ohio. This site, identified as SCIO-06, has been plagued with “loss of circulation” where drilling mud seems to disappear below ground. In recent cases drilling mud has caused “water wells to be contaminated, wetlands and lakes to be sullied, and toxic pollution in mines to be dislodged.”

During the initial public hearing for this pipeline in May 2018, several residents, including me, brought up concerns over the location of this pipeline in an ecologically sensitive area, one that is the habitat to the largest salamander in the U.S., the hellbender salamander.

This area is one of “pocketed geology” where Karst landscapes lend themselves to sinkholes. The area also is heavily populated by abandoned coal mines. Shell has reported 20 incidents including an 800-gallon release into a wetland in Pennsylvania and a 1,500-gallon spill into two Pennsylvania streams.

Since “regulations do not require state agencies like the Ohio EPA or Shell to notify communities about drilling mud spills,” local citizens must remain vigilant in their observations and documentation of accidents and spills in the region.

As a resident of Tappan Lake, I am concerned as to the ramifications that a spill into our watershed might have on our property values as well as the water quality of the lake.

Additionally, a $4.4 million marina is now being built at Tappan Lake by the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District. I am not aware of any MWCD representation at the initial 2018 meeting or at this meeting, which was attended by more than 100 concerned residents. Given this investment and the economic benefits Tappan Lake brings to our region, we need to take these findings seriously.

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