On September 18, 2012, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s (OEPA) Division of Materials and Waste Management issued an advisory to Ohio solid waste landfills as to how they should handle wastes associated with hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. The advisory addresses three types of wastes that in some instances can be disposed of in solid waste landfills: drill cuttings; drilling muds; and frac sands. The advisory also outlines how OEPA and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) regulate flowback/brine disposal.
Some of the most pertinent policy statements in the advisory publication include:
- Because drilling muds and frac sands usually will require solidification or other treatment to be accepted for land disposal, landfill operators must obtain pre-authorization from OEPA before accepting such waste streams.
- Drilling muds and frac sands from the Utica and Marcellus shale formations may contain elevated levels of total dissolved solids (TDS) and/or technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive materials (TENORM). If the levels of certain radium isotopes in drilling wastes are more than 5 picocuries per gram above background, a landfill operator must obtain authorization from the Ohio Department of Health (which has in place comprehensive regulations governing the handling and disposal of TENORM) in order to process and dilute the drilling wastes.
- Because drilling wastes may on occasion contain radiation and/or potentially high levels of TDS, landfills may be required to conduct monitoring of their systems (such as those related to leachate collection) to determine potential impacts to human health or the environment.
- Brine is authorized for disposal only in Class II injection wells, per section 1509.22 of the Ohio Revised Code. However, ODNR has the authority to approve alternative disposal methods. Before accepting any oilfield fluids, including brine for solidification, landfills must submit a proposal to ODNR for approval, and also must obtain authorization from OEPA to receive and solidify liquids.