Belpre firm interested in radioactive waste

BELPRE – An area company’s plans to handle naturally occurring radioactive waste that may be produced at shale oil and gas drilling sites have generated concern from a local environmental group.

But officials with Envirotank Clean Inc. say their facility, along Ohio 7 north of Belpre, can safely handle the material so it can be hauled to landfills certified to store the waste.

“We’re not taking any of that material as of now, but we want authorization to be able to handle it for the growing oil and gas industry in this area,” said Bhajan S. Saluja, president of Environtank Clean Inc.

He said radioactive material, buried far below the earth’s surface, is sometimes brought up in the horizontal hydraulic fracturing drilling process that extracts oil and gas from Ohio’s Utica and Marcellus shale beds a mile or so underground.

Known as TENORM (technologically-enhanced naturally-occurring radioactive material), the material may be found in ores, soils, water, or other natural substances in concentrated amounts when exposed to the environment by activities like drilling or sewage treatment, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Concerned about potential elevated exposure to radiation from TENORM, the EPA wants to provide industries generating the material with extra guidance to help them manage and dispose of TENORM in a way that protects people and the environment and is economically sound.

But Betsy Cook, a member of the Southeast Ohio Fracking Interest Group (SEOFIG), said radioactive materials have no place above ground.

“This stuff belongs underground, not in our landfills,” she said. “We think it’s going to be a big problem, and from what I’ve read this material is not classified as hazardous waste, but radiation is definitely hazardous. And solidifying it doesn’t make it any safer for landfills.”

Cook noted the state of New York has banned TENORM from landfills, fearing that the radiation would accumulate and become more concentrated if stored there.

“Any amount of radiation is not good,” she said. “And we’re mixing it with a lot of other chemicals already being stored in landfills.”

Cook said she would like to see more information about Envirotank’s proposed handling of TENORM provided during a public hearing.

“The amount of TENORM generated from most oil and gas drilling sites is very low in concentration, but the state of Ohio has very, very strict regulations for handling it,” Saluja said.

Ohio does not allow TENORM levels above 7 picocuries per gram to be stored in landfills within the state, according to Mark Bruce, public information officer with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources that regulates the state’s oil and gas drilling industry.

A picocurie is a standard measure of the intensity of radiation within a known radioactive substance.

Envirotank’s plan for handling TENORM would include “blending down” the radioactive material with a non-radioactive substance like sawdust to solidify the substance and reduce the concentration of radioactivity before having it trucked to a landfill certified for TENORM storage.

The company takes in non-hazardous waste from a variety of sources, including industry, construction sites and oil and gas drilling operations. Envirotank also cleans truck tanks that are used to haul various liquid substances after the tanks have been emptied.

Saluja said tanker trucks that haul brine for horizontal hydraulic drilling operations are cleaned by Envirotank, and any water used in the cleaning process is treated by the facility’s on-site water treatment plant.

“But we are not an injection well site and do not provide brine storage,” Saluja said.

Envirotank project manager Dave Stroh said the company started out 21 years ago as a commercial wastewater treatment facility and still provides that service for area industries and other customers.

“We take non-hazardous liquids from industrial plants in Ohio and West Virginia that municipal wastewater treatment plants cannot accept,” he said. “The raw liquids are pre-treated to separate oils, which can be recycled.”

Stroh said the remaining liquid is processed through the on-site wastewater treatment plant, and any solids settled at the bottom of the tank in which the liquid was hauled are blended with sawdust to provide more solidification before it’s put in a truck and hauled to a landfill.

Last month Envirotank was issued a temporary permit by the Ohio DNR to continue its normal non-hazardous waste handling and disposal operations until the state agency develops new regulations as required by a portion of Ohio House Bill 59, passed in July 2013 by the Ohio General Assembly.

“HB 59 required ODNR to develop a series of rules to regulate the oil and gas drilling and related industries,” Stroh said. “The new regulations were to be in place by Jan. 1 of this year, but the department was unable to meet that deadline. So the agency required companies like ours to submit an application for a temporary permit to continue our operations until the new rules are developed.”

Bruce said the more technical and stringent regulations governing facilities like Envirotank should be completed by early spring. After that the company will have six months to comply with the new rules.