Large coalition asks Legislature to ban fracking waste in New York

Photo courtesy of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

On the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, a coalition of 129 environmental, health and community groups issued a letter to the State Senate and Assembly requesting they close a loophole in state regulations that exempts certain oil and gas waste from being regulated as hazardous waste. 

Although New York has banned the act of high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the state still allows fracking waste from Pennsylvania to be brought to New York for disposal and other uses. 

The oil and gas waste from Pennsylvania fracking operations is dumped into New York landfills and has been used for de-icing or dust suppression on roads.

Since 2010, New York landfills have accepted more than 650,000 tons and 23,000 barrels of oil and gas waste, which can be highly toxic and radioactive, to dispose of from Pennsylvania drilling operations, according to Melissa Troutman, research and policy analyst from Earthworks. 

Cancer causing chemicals such as benzene, toluene, and formaldehyde are present in this waste material. 

Legislation (S. 3392 / A. 2655) introduced in the Senate by Rachel May and in the Assembly by Steve Englebright would require hazardous wastes produced from oil and natural gas activities to be subject to the requirements for treatment of hazardous wastes in New York.

The request to pass this bill comes just weeks after a complete ban on hydraulic and gelled fracking were codified with New York’s 2021 fiscal year budget. Cuomo signed a ban on fracking five years ago through executive order, making the legislation vulnerable to relinquishment in the hands of future governors. By codifying the fracking ban, it becomes permanent in New York.

“Weeks after enshrining New York’s fracking ban into law, the legislature can advance its leadership by closing a loophole that exempts dangerous oil and gas waste from long standing hazardous waste laws,” said Rob Friedman, policy advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “This insidious loophole has allowed hundreds of thousands of tons of drilling waste from fracking operations in neighboring Pennsylvania to be sent to landfills throughout New York without sufficient oversight. The Legislature must step up and close this loophole to protect the health and safety of all New Yorkers.”

According to a study published in 2011, the adverse health effects from chemicals used in natural gas operations are extensive. Nearly 90 percent are associated with harm to skin, eye and sensory organs and the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems. Twenty five percent could cause cancer and mutations.

Kathy Curtis, executive director of Clean and Healthy New York, said, “Enacting a policy to close the hazardous waste loophole would be a logical next step in the commitment New York has demonstrated to putting people over profits.”