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Why is Oil and Gas Waste a Big Issue?

Unconventional oil and gas development (fracking) produces vast amounts of waste. This waste comes in the form of brine and drill cuttings, both brought up from deep shale layers that can contain high amounts of uranium. Despite the potential presence of radioactivity, this waste is classified as residual waste and permitted to be disposed of in landfills and injection wells. This waste is often transported by trucks or barged. Oil and gas waste creates serious health concerns for residents living near sites that accept this waste as well as potential contamination from spills and accidents during transportation.

What is an Injection Well?

Leachate is the result of rainwater and moisture seeping through waste at a landfill and leaching chemicals, organic matter, and other particles from the waste. When landfills accept oil and gas waste, radioactive constituents can contaminate the leachate. However, the leachate is classified as residual waste at the landfill and sewage treatment plants. It is not treated for potential radioactive materials, leaving concerns that discharged treated water could be polluting rivers and streams.

Learn more about the hazards of leachate and how Protect PT is advocating for residents who have been impacted more than 10 years on our leachate page.

What is leachate?
poster describing the process of fracking waste and leachate

What is Leachate?

Stop the Plum Injection Well

What is an Injection Well?

Injection wells are often the last stop for fracking waste. These are the most dangerous kind of well to live nearby, as they can result in contaminated well water, contaminated aquifers, and even seismic activity. 

 

The premise of injection wells that the fracking industry tries to sell the public on is that, once the wastewater is injected underground, it stays put - as if something swept under a rug will not have to be dealt with sooner or later. The issue is that underground systems are all hydrologically connected. Fluids migrate underground, and can make their way back to the surface.

 

Furthermore, injection wells are often made from old conventional wells, which were not designed to handle the kind of pressure an injection well must endure. Casing failures are common, and result in disastrous consequences for anyone nearby who relies on well water. They can even contaminate nearby gas production wells.

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Protect PT's Work with Injection Wells

Protect PT is fighting against the apparently-illegal expansion of the Sedat injection well site, and helped defeat the Higinbotham well in Fayette County in 2023.

 

The Higinbotham well risked communicating with a network of abandoned gas wells and abandoned coal mines that ran under the course of the Monongahela River, upriver of the drinking water of 25 million people.

 

Following this, Fayette County passed state-of-the-art regulations on injection wells that should prevent projects like this going forward in the future in such risky locations.

Contact us if you want our help pushing for similar protections in your own community.

Protect PT Members discussing our work around the Plum Injection Well.

What is Road Spreading?

Did you know that the gas industry spreads their radioactive waste on our roads?

Protect PT's Environmental Policy Advocate Tom Pike Testifying before the PA State House Energy Committee regarding the practice of road spreading.

Due to a creative interpretation of State regulations, the conventional gas industry exploits a loophole that allows them to sell their waste to municipalities for use as a de-icer and dust suppressant. Gas waste has been shown to be ineffective at both of these tasks, as compared to commercial products, but some rural municipalities buy it anyway because it is cheaper. They should consider why it is cheaper: it is someone else’s garbage.

 

Road spreading is extraordinarily dangerous to human health. The process of gas drilling brings radioactive material from underground to the surface. These are known as TENORMs, or technologically-enhanced naturally-occurring radioactive materials. 

What are TENORMS?

  • Radon, which decays much faster than some of the other TENORMs, but is still the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States.

  • Radium 226, which has a half-life of 1600 years. To give you an idea of how long this will linger, if the Romans had disposed of gas industry waste on their roads, Italians would still be breathing in radium 226 today.

  • Uranium 238, which has a 4.5 billion year half life. To give you an idea of how long that lingers, 4.5 billion years ago, the earth was formed.

  • Thorium 232, with a half-life of 14 billion years. The universe is 13.7 billion years old.

When the industry takes these chemicals out of the ground and puts them on roads, they’re going to stay with us for a very long time.

 

It would be cheaper for anyone to dispose of their waste by dumping it in the roads, but when residents do that, they are fined. The same standards should apply to heavy industry.

 

Protect PT and our allies, including Earthworks and Better Path Coalition, achieved major wins against road spreading in 2024. Gas industry brine was removed as a legitimate co-product category from the DEP’s waste reporting system. What that means is that it will become harder for the industry to get away with road spreading of waste. 

 

We also provided data and testimony to legislators which resulted in a bill that would ban the road spreading of waste definitively, and enforce violations with fines.

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