After eight years of deadlock, key legislation that regulates oil and gas waste passed the New York State Senate this past Monday. If passed by the Assembly, the legislation, sponsored by Senator Rachel May and Assemblymember Steve Englebright, would close a longstanding loophole that exempts dangerous oil and gas industry waste from New York’s existing hazardous waste regulations.
Despite a statewide fracking ban that went into effect in 2015, New York is still threatened by waste carted in from out of state drilling activities, along with waste that comes from existing in-state conventional wells. According to records maintained by Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, seven landfills across New York have accepted over 500,000 tons of contaminated waste from fracked wells in Pennsylvania since 2011. Waste products include drill cuttings, contaminated tarps, and wastewater, which are all used in the fracking process.
The federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) requires the safe disposal of solid waste and hazardous materials in order to protect human health and the environment. However, a 1980 amendment to the law exempts waste from oil and gas exploration, development, or production, from regulation. The intent was to have states enact their own protections, but unfortunately, New York State never acted, so waste from oil and gas operations in and out of state can be sent to ordinary landfills and wastewater treatment facilities, and can eventually end up in waterways that supply drinking water to millions of people.
Oil and gas fracking utilizes over 1,000 chemical additives, many of which are toxic and carcinogenic. Studies have found that more than 75 percent of the chemicals used in fracking are associated with adverse effects on the skin, eyes, respiratory and gastrointestinal systems; 40 percent could have effects on the brain and nervous system, immune and cardiovascular systems, the kidneys and endocrine system; and 25 percent of the toxins are associated with cancer and mutations. These threats to public health are present well beyond the footprint of the fracking well, even in states like New York where fracking is banned.
The State Legislature must close this dangerous loophole and ensure that toxic oil and gas waste is subject to the same reporting requirements and special treatment as other industrial waste. We urge the Assembly to bring this important legislative out of committee and to the floor to protect New York from this harmful waste.