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Questions Linger in Ohio Fracking Waste Spill

PHOTO: Investigation continues into a fracking waste spill into storm drains leading into the Mahoning River near Youngstown.
PHOTO: Investigation continues into a fracking waste spill into storm drains leading into the Mahoning River near Youngstown.
February 11, 2013

COLUMBUS, Ohio - The unlawful disposal of thousands of gallons of fracking waste in Ohio is drawing the ire of residents and environmental groups. The Ohio EPA is investigating the intentional dumping of an estimated 20,000 gallons of crude oil and brine into a storm drain in Youngstown by Hard Rock Excavating. The incident occurred on Jan. 31, but was not reported for five days.

Julian Boggs, state policy advocate with Environment Ohio, said it was a company whistleblower, not state regulators, who uncovered the violation.

"The lesson we need to take and learn from this is that we have a serious, serious problem with fracking waste in this state," he said, "and we do not have an adequate system in place in order to protect public health and protect the environment."

Fracking opponents criticized state regulators for not disclosing details about the quantity of waste or the chemicals involved in the spill. Boggs called this situation evidence that Ohio has rushed into allowing fracking without considering the consequences. While the whole process should be re-examined, Boggs said, a first step would be to include fracking in hazardous waste laws.

"Ohio really is becoming a regional dumping ground for toxic and radioactive waste, and we just don't want or deserve that title," he said.

More than 6 million barrels of fracking waste from Pennsylvania and West Virginia were dumped in Ohio in 2011. Boggs complained that no proper regulations are in place for disposing of fracking waste from Ohio and other states.

"With millions and millions of barrels of this stuff coming over the border from Pennsylvania, and more being created here in our own state," he said, "it's becoming a serious problem that we're not adequately dealing with."

The industry says the brine and fluids used in the fracking process are largely safe, but opponents contend the process pollutes groundwater with toxic chemicals, creating threats to public health. According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the state has some of the most comprehensive oil and gas regulations in the nation to safeguard the public and the environment.

D&L Energy, which owns Hardrock Excavating, has not addressed the alleged violation. Ohio has permanently revoked the operating permits of both companies.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH