A common misunderstanding of Ohio oil and gas law is that it allows oil and gas operators to spread drilling fluid on Ohio roads.
The Ohio Revised Code authorizes local governments to spread “brine” produced from oil and gas wells on roads. Ohio law does not allow drilling fluid (aka “frac” or “frack” fluid) to be spread on roads under any circumstances and does not even allow brine to be spread without authorization from a local government.
Brine ≠ Frack Fluid
The distinction between brine and drilling fluid in the oil and gas industry is critical, even if those terms are sometimes used interchangeably by the public.
The Ohio Revised Code defines brine as “all saline geological formation water resulting from, obtained from, or produced in connection with exploration, drilling, well stimulation, or production of oil or gas, or plugging of a well.” ORC §1509.01(U).
In layman terms, brine is a naturally occurring liquid that flows from deep in the earth when an oil and gas well is drilled. It is essentially very salty water that may also contain some dissolved minerals and other elements. Brine is not the carefully engineered drilling fluid that oil and gas companies use to drill and hydraulically fracture oil and gas wells.
Local Government May Spread Brine on Roads, Not Drilling Fluid
Ohio law authorizes a board of county commissioners, a board of township trustees, or the legislative authority of a municipal corporation to “permit the surface application of brine to roads, streets, highways, and other similar land surfaces it owns or has the right to control for control of dust or ice,” subject to various reporting requirements and other guidelines established by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. ORC §1509.226
Ohio law is very clear that drilling fluid can not be spread on roads. ORC §1509.226(B)(10) states,
“only brine produced from a well shall be allowed to be spread on a road. Fluids from the drilling of a well, flowback from the stimulation of a well, and other fluids used to treat a well shall not be spread on a road.”
Everything in Moderation
Even though brine is not the same as drilling fluid, there are still environmental concerns if it is not handled responsibly. You certainly would not want to dump a truckload of brine on a corn field. But, even plows that spread rock salt on the roads in winter have the potential to be destructive if they are used excessively.
Fortunately, the ODNR imposes regulations and limits on how, and how much, brine can be spread on roads. Everything from the speed of the spreader truck to the diameter of the nozzle that sprays the brine is regulated by the ODNR. Further, the statute requires the local government to provide annual informational reports to the Chief of the ODNR so that the Chief can monitor any brine spreading. The Chief has discretion to determine what information must be provided. Through this requirement, the Chief could require brine to be tested for radiation, if necessary.
The bottom line is that spreading brine serves a purpose on Ohio roads and it is carefully controlled. Admittedly, it would be better if asphalt roads never became icy or if country lanes never got dusty but until road construction technology improves, brine spreading offers an alternative to the other options for controlling ice and dust: rock salt and oil.