Friday, March 29, 2013

Radioactive Drilling Waste Proposal In Budget Could Be Dumped Into Broader Landfill Overhaul

The Kasich administration's plan to regulate radioactive drilling waste will likely be stripped from the budget and handled as part of a more comprehensive revision of the state's landfill laws due this fall, a key House Republican said Thursday.  Both environmentalists and the oil and gas industry have opposed a proposal in the executive budget (HB 59) that would require horizontal well operators to test drilling waste for radioactivity and create new requirements for how it could be handled and disposed.

Rep. Dave Hall, ( ) chairman of the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee and a member of the House Finance: Agriculture & Development Subcommittee, said that the technically complex issue should be handled in separate legislation.  "It looked like it just needed a little more work and I expect that will probably end up being a bill itself," he said in an interview. Rep. Hall said the drilling waste issue will likely become more pressing in the future as producers start to recycle more fracking fluid because it picks up more radiation each time it comes into contact with naturally occurring radium beneath the surface.  Chairman Hall said the issue of radioactive drilling waste would more appropriately addressed in the context of a much broader review of landfills that he is anticipating will come before the Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee after summer recess.

While many Finance Committee members studying the issue believe the radioactivity issue should be separated from the budget bill, no final decision has yet been made, he said. "It's up to what leadership wants to do on that, but I think it does need some work."  The administration has said radioactive drilling waste is already being dumped in solid waste landfills and the proposal would ensure it was handled appropriately. In addition, the budget would allow the industry to reuse the material by diluting it with inert substances that could then be used for other purposes, like covering landfills.

The Ohio Oil and Gas Association ( )  has said the administration's proposal for dealing with naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) and technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material (TENORM) is unnecessary.  Testifying before the Agriculture & Development Subcommittee earlier this month, OOGA Treasurer Jim Aslanides cited the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' own testimony that well sites in the Utica Shale formation "indicate very low levels of NORM and TENORM."  "There is no problem. This is the classic regulatory solution looking for a problem to solve," he said.  Mr. Aslanides, a former lawmaker, also expressed concern that the proposal, which would grant the Ohio Department of Health new rulemaking authority, would muddy the current regulatory structure where ODNR has "sole and exclusive" jurisdiction over oil and gas operations. "That concept should not be compromised without a significant showing of compelling need. There is none here."

The Ohio Environmental Council ( ) takes the opposite view and has criticized the proposed regulations as too lax to adequately prevent dangerous radiation from entering the water supply as large-scale drilling of Ohio's shale formations ramps up. OEC Director of Legal Affairs Trent Dougherty said the amount of TENORM that would be allowed to be dumped in landfills was too dangerous to public health and the environment.  "If the legislature allows the provisions to remain, Ohio will be opening the floodgates for massive volumes of radioactive material to legally enter into Ohio's landfills," he said. "Ohio's waste water treatment plants will very likely begin treating radioactive waste water produced from radioactive leachate at landfills, putting an untold number of Ohioans at risk."  Ohio's solid waste landfills were not designed to safely contain TENORM, he said, noting that some other states, like Washington and Utah, require special facilities to handle low-level radioactive waste.

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