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Lawmakers, environmentalists urge NYS to ban hydrofracking wastewater

A group of state lawmakers is teaming up with environmental groups to ask Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration to ban the use of wastewater from hydrofracking and other oil and gas extraction from being spread on public roadways.The state Department of Environmental Conservation just closed a public comment period to revise regulations covering solid waste management facilities. Environmental groups and several state lawmakers said those new rules also should address whether wastewater from the production of natural gas and from oil drilling can be used in the state to de-ice roads in the winter and control dust in the summer.

They say the waste can still be dumped in landfills or in municipal wastewater treatment plants.

Mike Dulong, from the group Hudson Riverkeeper, said there should be a complete ban. He also said a loophole that does not characterize the wastewater as a hazardous substance should be closed.

“We don’t want to be the dumping ground for the oil and gas industry,” Dulong said.

According to a report by Environmental Advocates of New York, over a half-million tons of solid fracking waste and 23,000 barrels of liquid waste were dumped in New York landfills between 2010 and 2015. The fracking waste, or “brine,” also was found to be used in some places to de-ice roads.

The environmental groups say fracking waste has been found to contain “highly toxic and carcinogenic chemicals” such as benzene, formaldehyde and ethylene glycol. They say it also is radioactive, containing radium-226 and radium-228, which are linked to several types of cancer.

But at a joint legislative hearing on water contamination held in Albany on September 7, Cuomo’s environmental commissioner, Basil Seggos denied that the state allows the use of any fracking wastewater from gas drilling for roads or any other purpose in New York. Seggos, testifying under oath, was answering a question from Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh.

“No fracking waste is being dumped in New York state,” said Seggos. “Those who perpetrated that are just flat wrong.”

A DEC spokesman clarified that all fracking wastewater is indeed prohibited since a December 2015 decision. But “brines” from other types of oil and gas extraction are permitted, though they are strictly regulated and tested for toxic contaminants or radioactive content. They also are not permitted within 50 feet of a stream or lake.

Sen. Liz Krueger, one of 20 legislators who wrote a letter to the DEC asking for a total ban on oil and gas drilling wastewater, said the current restrictions do not go far enough.

“We need to be explicit about what is considered hazardous waste,” said Krueger, “and we need to keep it out of our water system.”

DEC spokesman Sean Mahar said the agency “appreciates” the comments of the lawmakers and environmental groups and “are taking them under review.”

New York City already has acted independently to ban the use of wastewater from all oil and gas drilling. So have 20 other counties in New York.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.