Brine spreading battle back on in General Assembly

The tricky issue of how to dispose of oil and gas wastewater is percolating again in the General Assembly.

Dueling legislative memos were filed on Tuesday.

One – put forward by Rep. Martin Causer (R-67, McKean, Cameron and Potter counties) would permit the practice of spreading wastewater, or brine, on roadways as a dust suppressant and road stabilizer.

The other – filed by Delaware County Rep. Greg Vitali (D-166) would prohibit the practice.

The issue has been a legislative and regulatory pinball since a state Environmental Hearing Board ruling in 2018 instituted a de facto ban on the practice. That challenge was brought by Siri Lawson, a Farmington Twp. residence.

Since then, there have been various regulatory and legislative proposals but it appears the practice is still illegal.

Now the fight moves back – again – to the General Assembly.

“Controlling dust from roads is a serious issue in many communities throughout Pennsylvania, particularly rural communities with a higher proportion of dirt roads,” Causer’s legislative memo details. “Numerous studies have demonstrated the serious health risks that can be caused by road dust, which can create air pollution by releasing particulate matter and other pollutants.”

Causer states that one of the “best ways to handle this issue” is to “spread a product on unpaved roads to suppress dust and act as a road stabilizer.”

He points out that the cost of securing commercial products for this purpose can be prohibitive.

“Because of this, municipalities have long turned to spreading brine from the conventional oil and gas industry,” Causer wrote. “The practice of spreading conventional oil and gas brine for dust suppression was the recommendation of a DEP study published in 1996.

Using brine-spreading guidelines described by DEP in that study, municipalities have decades of experience using brine for dust suppression in a safe manner.

“Municipalities have found brine to be an effective and cost-efficient product.”

His bill will institute recommendations from that 1996 study including restricting brine from being spread within 150 feet of a body of water.

“My legislation will clarify that municipalities are allowed to continue this practice of spreading brine, solely from the conventional industry, not from unconventionally fracked shale wells, on their roads for purposes of controlling dust and stabilizing roads,” he concluded. “The practice of utilizing naturally occurring brine for dust suppression, which has occurred for many decades, is a win-win for our constituents from a health perspective and for our municipalities from a fiscal perspective.”

Vitali’s memo was also introduced Tuesday.

He acknowledged wastewater spreading has been a “common practice” to address issues of dust, road stabilization and ice suppression.

“However, production brine contains toxic chemicals and has negative impacts to public health and the environment,” Vitali states. “A recent study from Penn State found that production brine spreading exposes groundwater, soil, and air to contaminants like metals, salts, and radioactive materials, specifically radium.”

He outlined that his proposal would amend the Solid Waste Management Act “by prohibiting the spreading of production brine on all land, developed or undeveloped. My bill would also prohibit wastewater transport vehicles from having brine spreading equipment installed on the vehicle.

“These provisions would help stop the spread of harmful and toxic contaminants.”


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