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21st June 2016
...continued from Part 1

“We need a statewide guidance on the handling, sampling and protocol and we need it yesterday not a year from now,” a state employee wrote in the fall of 2012, signing his email, “frustrated in the field.” In 2013, an employee commenting on a backlog of waste awaiting state review, wrote, “We need to find a solution for this and it sure isn’t allowing the boxes to pile up.”

None of these concerns was mentioned in a highly anticipated report by the Department of Environmental Protection last year that found “little potential for harm to workers or the public from radiation exposure due to oil and gas development.” The study was quickly championed by energy interests.

Some, however, have questioned the study’s methodology and the impartiality of its author, Perma-Fix Environmental Services, a nuclear waste contractor. The state works closely with Perma-Fix to assess landfill radiation risks 1,000 years in the future.

“We have evolved since 2013,” said state waste and radiation director Ken Reisinger, insisting there is “plenty of space” in Pennsylvania for drilling waste. “We have continued to refine our science and we continued to question ourselves on the protocols.”

Steinzor, with Earthworks, said that without a federal tracking system, states have no reliable way of ensuring waste isn’t being illegally dumped. Pennsylvania regulators were able to pinpoint final burial locations for a third of nearly 300 loads rejected in 2015, but two-thirds remain unaccounted for.

Critic under fire

Bill Hughes has sat on the Wetzel County Solid Waste Authority in West Virginia for 15 years - five as chairman - but he has a feeling this year will be his last.

A staunch fracking critic, Hughes has spoken out against the dumping of radioactive drilling waste alongside household trash in municipal landfills.

Located at the base of West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle, Wetzel County has become a prime destination for out-of-state drilling waste. Hughes, 71, concedes that he’s “made a lot of noise” about the dumping of such waste in the county’s 238-acre landfill; since 2012 it’s outpaced the intake of all other garbage combined.

In February Hughes, a retired electrician who belongs to the Heinz-funded FracTracker Alliance, was sued by the landfill’s operator, Lackawanna Transport Company. Lackawanna is seeking damages that “could be in excess of $1 million,” claiming Hughes illegally invoked his chairmanship of the waste authority to temporarily block the company from building a separate, lined surface pit for drilling waste in 2013.

Nearly 100 public commenters raised concerns about the pit — known as a cell — which would allow Wetzel to accept an unlimited amount of drilling waste. West Virginia does not count such waste as part of Wetzel’s monthly cap of 9,999 tons, which is meant to conserve space and limit the life of the landfill. Wetzel has already taken 650,000 tons of drilling waste since 2013.

Further south, in Harrison County, Meadowfill Landfill sought approval for a similar cell in 2013 and won easy approval. That landfill has gone on to become the state’s top disposer of drilling waste, taking in nearly 900,000 tons since 2013, including loads deemed too radioactive for Pennsylvania.

News of the million-dollar lawsuit against Hughes rattled the Wetzel authority’s volunteer members, who had bickered with him about mounting legal costs associated with fighting the proposed cell. In March, they told the authority’s lawyers to withdraw official opposition to it, and a state commission approved it a short time later.

Authority members are unpaid, but the authority itself and its popular county recycling program are funded largely by landfill fees, creating potential conflicts of interest, Hughes said. His term on the authority expires in July.

‘Wild West’ in Ohio

Rachelle Quigg and her son had a rude awakening one summer night in 2014 when a neighbor’s property in Hammondsville, Ohio, was invaded by large yellow tanks and humming trucks.

“It was like the most bizarre thing ever,” Quigg said, describing trucks noisily pulling in and out at all hours of the night. She said the Ohio Department of Natural Resources sent an inspector in February 2015 only after she and others complained to a television news crew. “It seemed like they had too much to deal with; they couldn't bother.”

A month later, officials ordered the company responsible, Anchor Drilling Fluids USA Inc., to shut down and clean up the property, which it did in July 2015. The company was not penalized outside of being ordered to close the site.

In lieu of issuing permits, the state has allowed more than 40 facilities to handle and treat drilling waste under a temporary authorization process since 2014. Some applications were approved the same day they were submitted — unlike permits, which require public comment and various stages of review.

Department of Natural Resources spokesman Eric Heis said companies consult with state engineers prior to filing applications, which shortens review times. Temporary authorizations are granted without public comment.

Under Gov. John Kasich, the department has drawn criticism for being deferential to industry. A 2012 memo detailed joint plans by the department and Kasich’s office to rally support for fracking by undercutting “environmental-activist opponents, who are skilled propagandists.” The memo singled out opponents, including the Sierra Club and Democratic legislators, and potential allies such as Halliburton and other energy and business interests. The plans were never carried out.

Melanie Houston of the Ohio Environmental Council said rulemaking efforts have moved at a snail’s pace, creating a “Wild West” milieu. Proposed guidelines would require landfill operators to install radiation monitors and report alarms to health officials and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, which shares authority with the Department of Natural Resources.

The Ohio EPA began the rulemaking process in 2013, but has yet to approve any rules. Statewide, six landfills reported accepting 583,000 tons of drilling waste in 2013. In 2014, eight landfills reported taking in nearly double that amount.

Emails obtained by the Center through an open-records request show state officials struggled to coordinate response to an alarm last July triggered by drilling “filter socks” in East Sparta that were emitting roughly 200 times the state’s radiation limit. The socks, which separate liquid and solid drilling waste, were picked up unknowingly by a residential garbage truck. The waste was shipped to a Utah nuclear waste site in October, since it was too radioactive for a much closer facility in Michigan.

Dumping in New York

Like Ohio, New York is mulling new rules. In February, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced proposed regulations requiring landfills to install radiation monitors and lower the radioactivity of disposed waste. The state’s Department of Environmental Conservationis accepting public comments through the summer.

The proposals come a year after an Environmental Advocates of New York report claim.