Live on tape: dirty oil and gas waste being released into the environment

Here’s my latest installment of videos. This time the videos convey images of waste from oil and gas operations being improperly managed and threatening human health and  the environment. Oil and gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing create astounding amounts of waste – tens of billions of barrels per year. Most of this waste is completely exempt from federal hazardous waste provisions that are supposed to ensure safe management of hazardous waste and prevent new toxic waste sites. This loophole is in the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, known as RCRA.

What does industry do with its waste? Sometimes it buries it on site. Sometimes it lets it evaporate into our air. Sometimes it injects it underground. Sometimes it just spreads it on the ground. While there is plenty of evidence that some of this waste is quite toxic, with contaminants including benzene, arsenic mercury, or radioactive materials, it may be left in place right near people’s homes and drinking water. Would you like this waste in your backyard where your children play?

Reports from problems with oil and gas waste come from around the country. The loophole in RCRA should be closed. There are better options out there for managing oil and gas waste, such as “pitless drilling,” which uses a closed-loop system to collect and store waste until it can be taken off-site to an appropriate waste facility. Using pitless drilling can actually save companies money. Unfortunately, as you’ll see in these videos, some companies don’t seem to care about saving money or protecting communities.

Here is a tape of a drilling operation in the Barnett Shale area of Texas, where the drill cuttings, coming out of the ground, are supposed to be going into a waste pit. Unfortunately, the operator is completely overshooting the pit and the waste is being dumped directly on a family’s backyard.

Here is a tape of waste spread directly on the same family’s backyard:

Last, here is a pit in western Colorado. The company was supposed to be removing the contents of a pit, along with the liner. During removal of the liner, however, the company allowed some of the used frac fluids to escape the liner and contaminate the soil. This escaped waste was buried on site, even though the location was directly above groundwater that feeds a fresh water spring and drinking water sources.