ALBANY -- While the state finalizes regulations for the controversial natural-gas drilling method known as "high-volume fracking," an environmental group charged Friday that hazardous waste from existing wells isn't being monitored.
Conventional natural-gas drilling and low-volume hydraulic fracturing produce wastewater that may contain chemicals, salts and naturally occurring radioactive material. But the state does not regulate it as hazardous waste, the group, Environmental Advocates of New York, said.
"It's nearly impossible to follow the trail of waste from where it's created on a well, how it's actually disposed of in the end, and whether or not that disposal is causing problems for the public health and environment," Katherine Nadeau, the group's program director for water and natural resources, said.
Nadeau said if the water were tested for chemicals, it would likely be classified as hazardous waste based on what has been found in Pennsylvania, where high-volume fracking has been going on for years.
State Department of Environmental Conservation spokeswoman Emily DeSantis confirmed that wastewater from current drilling sites was exempted from hazardous waste regulations but added that the report had not proved that the water should be classified that way.
The Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York, which lobbies on behalf of drillers, criticized the report. "The natural gas industry . . . has a stellar track record of environmental safety and compliance," IOGA board member John Holko said in a statement.
According to the DEC, companies disposed of 17.6 million gallons of drilling wastewater in the state in 2010. The majority of that, 10.5 million gallons containing drilling chemical "flowback," went to treatment plants, while 6.8 million gallons of brine was spread on roads as a de-icing agent. The remainder was recycled or pumped into the earth.
The Assembly twice has passed a bill sponsored by Assemb. Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst) that would remove the exemption for drilling wastewater from being treated as hazardous waste. The bill has not advanced in the Senate.