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DEP and producers working on new rules

There are answers to dusty roads.

Hundreds of them.

Spreading brine from the production of oil and gas from conventional wells has been one of the answers in Pennsylvania for the past 30 years.

“There are over 25,000 miles of unpaved roads in Pennsylvania,” according to a Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) fact sheet. “Such roads are subject to dust and erosion in the summertime, and icing in the winter.”

“Road spreading of oil and gas wastewater as brine has been widely used in parts of Pennsylvania, particularly northwestern Pennsylvania… since 1988,” according to the fact sheet. “In addition, this kind of ‘beneficial reuse’ is allowed in 13 or more states.”

Until a recent decision by the DEP Environmental Hearing Board, DEP had issued annual permits for brine spreading. The decision changes that.

“DEP does not currently allow use of brines produced by conventional oil and gas operations for dust suppression or de-icing,” DEP Community Relations Coordinator Melanie Williams said. “DEP has never allowed wastewater from unconventional operations to be spread.”

“Recent litigation called into question whether the DEP’s existing brine-spreading plan approval process for brine produced from conventional oil and gas wells violates the requirements for permitting in the Solid Waste Management Act,” Williams said.

“The use of brine… as a dust suppressant offers both advantages and disadvantages,” according to DEP.

“One advantage is reduced dust emissions — helping lower the potential of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases from dust emissions,” according to DEP. “In addition, the use of brine from conventional oil and gas drilling comes at a major cost advantage to local municipalities. Commercial bring can cost around 25 cents per liter and the brine from conventional oil and gas drilling is free or lower cost. This helps stretch limited budgets.”

There are also disadvantages,” according to the fact sheet. “The spreading of brine from oil and gas drilling can threaten environmental and public health by leaching into the surface or ground water, accumulating in roads or adjacent soils, modifying adjacent soil chemistry, and migrating in air and dust. In additional, a recent study indicated high levels of radium resulting from such spreading.”

“DEP is working with Pennsylvania Grade Crude Advisory Council to develop new regulations for the conventional oil and gas operations,” Williams said. “These regulations will likely include regulations on brine-spreading and will consider scientific research.”

For the time being, municipalities may not use brine from conventional oil and gas production for dust control.

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