Study examines oil and gas water as dust suppressant

Times Observer photo by Josh Cotton While state government tries to sort out the legislative side of the issue of oil and gas produced water on dirt roads, a new Penn State and Temple study has found that option less effective than other commercial options as a dust suppressant.

A state-wide moratorium on the use of produced water from oil and gas operations as a dust suppressant on dirt roads remains in effect.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly has — to date without success via a Gov. Tom Wolf veto — been seeking legislative solutions.

A new study from Penn State and Temple researchers looked at a much more fundamental question: Does it work?

The study, published earlier this month in Science of the Total Environment and posted online by the Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, is entitled “Efficacy of oil and gas produced water as a dust suppressant.”

The group of scientists acknowledge that the “effectiveness of oil and gas produced water (OGWP) applied to unpaved roads to reduce particulate matter generation has not been well-characterized.”

Their study included taking 20 simulated brines, eight samples of produced water and three alternative byroducts and applying them to “road aggregate” in the laboratory. They then measured particulate matter generations after treatment both before and after “simulated rain events.”

“We found the dust suppression efficacy of all OGWP to be less than commercial products and alternative byproducts such as waste soybean oil,” the researchers concluded. “In addition, OGPW lost efficacy following simulated rain events, which would require repeated applications of OGPW to maintain dust suppression.”

“There is currently little published research on the effectiveness of OGPW as a dust suppressant,” they add, “despite its use for this purpose for upwards of 70 years”

The report states that there are over one million miles of unpaved roads in the United States and acknowledges research that shows “inhalable” particulate matter is “strongly correlated with impairment of the respiratory system.” As a result, the report states that suppressing dust on roads can protect human health, improve driver safety and eliminate unwanted dust deposition.

They also state that the commercial options are often cost prohibitive for “typical road maintenance budgets in rural areas that need these services the most.”

“Road spreading of OGPW is an established practice that is generating health and efficacy concerns as the practice gains more attention. Compared to commercial counterparts, calcium and magnesium chlorides, the presence of sodium in an OGPW can render an OGPW less effective as a dust suppressant,” the report concludes. “None of the OGPWs assessed performed as well as the commercial analogs.”

The state House has already approved legislation that would create different regulations for the conventional and unconventional industries but also permit the use of produced water on roads.

The General Assembly is on recess until September. Both the House and Senate bills are before the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.

The Senate bill was sponsored by State Sen. Scott Hutchinson while State Rep. Kathy Rapp voted in favor of the bill in the house.

Warren County has been at the epicenter of the issue.

A case originating out of Farmington Township, Warren County resulted in a state-wide moratorium on the use of oil and gas wastewater as a dust suppressant and de-icer that is still in effect.

The legislature attempted to permit the use of brine in Hutchinson’s bill last session but the language was struck prior to final passage and before Gov. Tom Wolf ultimately vetoed the legislation.


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