DEP issues advisory to N.J. facilities regarding content of Marcellus Shale waste

TRENTON  – The state has issued an advisory to solid and hazardous waste management facilities to be aware of what may be contained in any “cuttings’’ they accept from work done in connection with gas drilling of the Marcellus Shale.

The advisory specifically tells facilities to be on the lookout and test for heavy metals and radionuclides.

The Department of Environmental Protection has issued the advisory that “well cuttings produced during the drilling of wells in the Marcellus Shale and other deep shale formations may already or will soon be entering New Jersey for transfer, management, storage and/or disposal.”

The cuttings can include soil, rocks, and other residue.

The advisory states, in part, that “Based on preliminary data relating to the nature of cuttings from wells drilled to tap the Marcellus Shale, these materials may contain petroleum hydrocarbons from drilling fluids and elevated concentrations of heavy metals and radionuclides that are associated with the Marcellus Shale and other bedrock formations. The possible contaminants, and their concentration levels,  may vary significantly from well-site to well-site.”

The declaration that the residue may include material with some level of radioactivity underscores the controversial nature of the whole issue of New Jersey and its future relationship with the hydraulic fracturing method of gas exploration.

Earlier this month, the Delaware River Basin Commission postponed once again a vote on lifting a moratorium on the process, and has not rescheduled the vote.

Earlier this week, a bill cleared the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee that would prevent any hydraulic fracturing wastewater from being treated or disposed of in New Jersey. The Senate Environment and Energy Committee will hear the upper chamber version of the bill on Thursday, but that will be only for discussion, not a vote.

The DEP advisory states that any N.J. facility such as a landfill or transfer station that handles this material must comply with any permits, regulations, and statutes that apply.

The DEP warns that noncompliance could lead to significant enforcement and penalties.

“All facilities seeking to accept cuttings derived from the drilling of wells in the Marcellus Shale and other deep shale formations shall properly characterize each source of this material prior to its receipt,” DEP states.

Jeff Tittel, director of the N.J. Sierra Club, reacted strongly to the news.

“DEP is telling companies to get ready for fracking waste to come to New Jersey,’’ he said. “We should not allow out-of-state gas companies to dump on New Jersey, bringing in toxic materials from gas drilling sites to our state.

“DEP regulations will not protect us from the potential impacts of fracking and the transport and disposal of toxic materials here.”

Tittel called for expansion of the legislation – S3049, the bill being discussed by the Senate Thursday – to include drill cuttings and other toxic material in addition to wastewater.

“This material can also include radioactive materials and other toxic waste from fracking. So Pennsylvania gets the money and we get dumped on,” Tittel said.

However, DEP spokesman Larry Ragonese said the advisory is purely a prudent, precautionary measure.

“Our feeling is this: We have an obligation to protect the public health and welfare of New Jersey residents,” Ragonese said. “Our goal is to require any byproducts of well drilling to be as thoroughly tested as possible.”

“It’s really to ensure that what might come to New Jersey is clean and would not cause any contamination,” he said.

Ragonese said that as far as DEP is aware, none of this material has entered New Jersey so far.

‘Fracking,’ as it is sometimes called, has been occurring in other parts of the country for years, and its waste can include many natural elements including heavy metals, hydrocarbons, or radioisotopes, Ragonese said. 

“We want to make sure that we’re ahead of the curve,’’ in notifying landfills or other agencies to be on the lookout for and test for such materials, he explained.

Previous coverage:

Hydraulic fracturing wastewater bill clears Assembly panel

  DEP issues advisory to N.J. facilities regarding content of Marcellus Shale waste