Dec 21 2011

NY Wastewater Hearings

NYS Senate Committee Told:  Picture a Niagara Falls of Wastewater from

Fracing with No Comprehensive Plan to Safely Deal with It;

Flowback Frac Water Not Designated ‘Hazardous’

DEC Outlines ‘Options’

But Will NY Senate Committee Act?

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) promises  high-volume hydraulic fracturing can be done “safely.”1
Based on that promise, how will New York State deal with the billions of gallons of toxic wastewater that eventually will be produced?
To understand the challenge, picture Niagara Falls with one-half million gallons of water per second pouring over it.
Then consider 62,000 estimated hydraulic fracturing wells in New York State, producing 62 billion gallons of toxic wastewater.  This could easily be what New York citizens face if Democrat Governor Andrew Cuomo opens the door to hydraulic fracturing in New York State.

This was part of the testimony of Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D. (biology), author and Distinguished Scholar in Residence with the Environmental Studies department at Ithaca College.  She was among 14 individuals from government, industry, academia and environmental organizations testifying by invitation only for the New York State Senate Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation.2

Held in Canandaigua, New York, the subject of the 6-hour public hearing was “to examine waste water produced from hydraulic fracturing.”  The committee and the hearings are chaired by State Senator Mark J. Grisanti (R, 60th District).  He was joined at the Canandaigua hearing by State Senator Patrick Gallivan (R, 59th District).2

“The volume of wastewater generated by fracking is immense,” Steingrabber told the Senate Committee on December 12.3

She explains (emphasis added):  “In the Marcellus Shale, between four and nine million gallons of water are required to frack a single well.  At least one million of these gallons returns to the surface as wastewater.”

“Sixty-two thousand gas wells are envisioned for New York State,” she testified.  “If all those wells are fracked only once – a highly conservative assumption – the total amount of wastewater generated is the number 62…with nine zeros after it.” 

 62 Billion Gallons of Toxic Wastewater

“To visualize that amount of water, consider that 500,000 gallons of water go over both sides of the Niagara Falls every second.  The amount of wastewater that would be generated in New York State from fracking, if we decide to permit it, is equal to the volume of water cascading over Niagara Falls for 35 straight hours.”   

Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D. (biology)

“So, imagine standing in front of the Niagara Falls for 35 hours.  Now imagine that all the cascading water you see is radioactive and full of toxic chemicals, and your job is to figure out where to put it so that it won’t come in contact with any person or any other body or water or the soil or the air.  Forever.”

A key question is whether the DEC has a plan for all that toxic wastewater?

Steingrabber notes (emphasis added):  “The where-to-put-it question is not adequately addressed in the [DEC’s] draft generic Environmental Impact Statement, which does not put forth a comprehensive plan for waste disposal nor explicitly prohibit fracking waste from entering sewage treatment plants.”

In fact, water treatment plants are part of the DEC plan.

DEC ‘Options’

Speaking earlier in the day, DEC Deputy Commissioner Eugene Leff (Remediation & Materials Management) testified, “We have identified many measures to protect our drinking water, our air, our land and our streams.”4

He said (emphasis added):  “At this point in time, besides recycling, the disposal methods anticipated to be proposed for both flowback water and produced water are injection into disposal wells or processing at water treatment plants.”

Despite the DEC’s statement that water treatment plans are an option for the disposal of hydraulic fracturing wastewater, Leff noted (emphasis added), “Presently, there are no plants that are authorized to accept waste water from high-volume hydraulic fracturing in New York.

He added:  “However, a facility dedicated to the treatment of wastewater from the drilling industry may be proposed.  And existing plants may seek to address these industrial wastewaters – or other technologies could be developed to treat such waste water as the use of this technology continues.”

As it turned out, invited speakers at the hearings included representatives from waste management companies who described “other technologies” they say will safely manage the toxic wastewater issue.  Such technologies include:

  • Desalination
  • Onsite decontamination using closed loop systems
  • Forward osmosis using polyamide membranes.

Regarding the promise of these various methods, Steingraber said while the volume of wastewater may be compressed, the total mass of toxic, radioactive chemicals remains the same – only more concentrated (emphasis added):

“Newton’s laws of nature still apply:  matter can neither be created nor destroyed; elements like arsenic are absolutely persistent; radionuclides don’t just disappear.”

“The volume of the wastewater may decrease, but the total mass of toxic, radioactive chemicals stays the same and, indeed, is even more concentrated within the smaller volume of fluid that remains.  And this even-more-poisonous material still requires transfer and injection in underground wells or disposal somewhere.”

She urged the Senators to take two first steps:

  1. “First, waste that is hazardous should be called hazardous waste and treated as such.”
  2. “Second, a human health impact assessment must precede and inform the decision whether or not to move forward with fracking.  To skip this step and risk exposing New Yorkers to inherently toxic chemicals without their consent is a violation of basic human rights.”

She pointed out that “a slight-of-hand legal exemption” excludes hydraulic fracturing flowback fluid from the designation “hazardous.”  Yet dozens of the chemical constituents used in fracing fluids are designated as “hazardous.”

She explains (emphasis added):  “By any definition known to toxicology, the wastewater from fracking operations is hazardous.  Hydrofracking fluid sprayed in a forest in West Virginia, for example, defoliated and killed more than half the trees, and elevated the sodium and chloride levels of the soil by 50 fold. When spilled on the ground, fracking waste sows barrenness where nothing will grow.  Those ancient Roman conquerors who salted the fields of their enemies would be impressed.

“Fracking wastewater is also radioactive. According to the DEC’s own findings, flowback waste contains radium-226 at more than 200 times higher than the limit safe for discharge into the environment and more than 3000 times higher than the U.S. EPA drinking water standard.  And yet, the sGEIS does not ensure that this truly hazardous fluid is treated as a truly hazardous substance, nor does it attempt to make it less hazardous.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Senator Grisanti thanked all who participated and said:  “I’m glad that the testimony that was presented here today will be in the record.  It is something that the DEC has to take a look at, has to move forward on it.”

Senator Gallivan said, “Clearly this is an issue of our times; and perhaps the most significant thing that we will face in our time in the Senate.  So it is not something we take lightly.”

He also thanked Senator Grisanti who, he said, “is traveling throughout the state and conducting numerous hearings.”

Citizens, property owners and groups can submit written comments to the DEC by close of business on Wednesday, January 11, 2012. This is important because it is the instrument by which the state says it will regulate this industrial activity.5

 Links & Resources

1 “We are going to do this safely,” stated Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens – Refer to ”NY Promises” on Spectra Energy Watch at this link:

2 New York State Senate:  Public Hearing To Examine Waste Water Produced from Hydraulic Fracturing

Audio/Video Files of Senate Public Hearing on Hydraulic Fracturing Waste, Canandaigua, December 12, 2011Shaleshock Media has posted audio and video files of the hearing which allow you to listen and/or watch selected speakers at this link:

See also this link:

3 Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D. New York State Senate testimony – You can download this pdf file of Dr. Steingraber’s testimony  Steingraber NY Senate Testimony 12_12_11.  In addition, Shaleshock Media has posted audio and video files of Dr. Steingraber’s testimony at this link:

4 New York State DEC Deputy Commissioner Eugene Leff (Remediation & Materials Management) Shaleshock Media has posted audio and video files of Commissioner Leff’s testimony at this link:

5 Public Comments should be made by January 11, 2012 on the revised Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS).  Following are good sources for information.

In addition, check out this “how to respond” guide to the DEC online.  It offers a user friendly guide for the lay person to understand and respond to the SGEIS document and New York State’s proposed fracing regulations.  You’ll find analyses by many knowledgeable folks including Chip Northrup, energy industry investor, and Lou Allstadt, former Executive VP of Mobil Oil Corporation:

NOTE:  This article is cross-posted on the Accountability Central website at this link:  Accountability Central is part of the Governance & Accountability Institute, Inc.


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