as fracking booms in ohio legislators act modestly to address public safety concerns

Every year, Ohio handles thousands of tonnes of radioactive waste from hydraulic fracturing by sending it through treatment facilities, injecting it into old, unused gas wells, and dumping it in landfills. In the past, there weren’t many rules about how to handle and get rid of this waste. For example, there weren’t many rules about how to measure how dirty it might be or how and where it could be moved and stored.

Since the business of fracking waste is only getting bigger, Ohio lawmakers had the chance to decide in 2013 how to best keep an eye on the state’s huge amount of toxic waste, much of which is brought in by truck from other states.

But even though there were calls for all of the waste to be carefully checked for contamination, Gov. John Kasich and the state legislature passed laws that only require a small portion of the waste to be checked. The water and rocks that are dug up during the drilling process do not have to be tested at all.

Also, the fracking industry lobbied the legislature to stop the governor’s plan to have the waste tested by the state’s Department of Health, which many people agree has the most experience with radioactive materials. The Department of Natural Resources, which is in charge of approving and inspecting oil and gas drilling sites but has never dealt with radioactive waste before, is now in charge of the testing.

The lawmakers made decisions without much public debate, and the new rules they passed were buried in a 4,000-page state budget bill. So, both the measures Kasich first proposed and the ones he ended up signing into law have angered environmentalists and state residents who are worried about the risks of fracking in their state.

A review by ProPublica of what the legislature did shows that only a few people spoke before the oversight committees that were supposed to look at the pros and cons of the proposed rules. And interviews with legislative staffers make it clear that the final language of the regulations, including changes that weakened two measures proposed by the governor, was added to the budget bill at the last minute.

So, even though a lot of people and some elected officials were surprised, Ohio’s oversight of fracking waste is still pretty much the same as it was before: limited and controversial.

Alison Auciello of Food and Water Watch, a group that works to protect the environment, said, “It could leave a toxic legacy that could turn large parts of Ohio into possible Superfund sites.”

Tom Stewart, vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, said that mandatory testing of fracking waste was not needed because of the rules that are already in place. He also said that his group had pushed to limit the Department of Health’s role because it would have led to bureaucratic problems instead of effective monitoring.

He said that the state’s oil and gas industry backs “regulation that directly protects the public interest while letting industry do its job efficiently.” “We don’t agree with rules that are meant to make people happy or make them feel better.”

Different states have different rules about how to get rid of waste from fracking. In some places, like Texas, there are almost no rules. But some people have taken more forceful steps to protect the public. For example, North Dakota and Pennsylvania have agreed to find out what the radioactive threat is and how big it is through formal testing. They also plan to put in place safety measures based on what they find. Already, alarms have been put in landfills to see if the contaminated trash going in goes over the limits set by the state. And in West Virginia, lawmakers passed a law that says radioactive waste from fracking must be stored in separate, lined pits.

Oil and gas drilling is a big business in Ohio. Companies that want to take advantage of the state’s natural resources have spent billions of dollars and created tens of thousands of jobs because of it. In 2011, business groups did an economic study that said the business would add more than 200,000 jobs over the next few years. Kasich has said that Ohio is ready to work with the business world.

There are two types of environmental problems caused by industry in Ohio: the liquid waste from hydraulic fracturing, which is now being stored by pumping it back into the ground, and the solid waste that is piling up in the state’s landfills.

People in Ohio know a lot more about how to handle liquid waste and are worried about it. People are getting more worried that the fracking process has caused earthquakes, which have made cracks in the earth through which radioactive water put back into the earth could get into the groundwater.

State officials say they are looking into the threat of liquid waste, but the budget bill from last year didn’t do much to address the problem.

Environmentalists and other people who care about safety are sure that the state’s desire to help the fracking industry grow has affected the debate about what to do with the waste. Analysts and others say that if drilling companies can easily dump waste in Ohio, they won’t have to pay one of their biggest costs, which is to truck the waste somewhere else.

Kasich’s office did not respond to repeated requests for comments about the new rules and how they came to be. The Ohio Senate majority caucus, which worked to change and then pass the 2013 regulations, also refused to say anything.

Environmentalists in Ohio say that the industry can’t be regulated in a meaningful way without a real public debate that includes the opinions of researchers and scientists who have studied the health risks of radioactive waste for years.

Julie Weatherington-Rice, an adjunct professor in the Department of Food, Agricultural, and Biological Engineering at Ohio State University, said of the limited changes in regulatory oversight, “It’s unethical to let politics rule over scientific facts.” “By doing that, they have put the people of Ohio in danger.”

Almost every step of the process called “fracking” is used to get natural gas out of the ground. At almost every step, radioactive waste is made. This is true in part because radioactive metals are found in the shale formations that drillers are trying to get to. As the gas reserves are drilled for, some of these metals are brought back to the surface.

In some cases, the metals break down into the water that is used to frack the well, making the water dirty. In other cases, the metals are found in the pieces of rock and soil that drillers break up while drilling. These pieces are called “drill cuttings.” Drilling mud is a thick fluid that has a lot of radium and other radioactive elements in it. It is used to bring the cuttings back to the surface and to keep the drilling equipment cool.

Nothing here is new. Radioactive waste has always come from oil and gas fields. But the fracking boom has made drilling more intense, which means that more and more radioactive materials are being found faster. Also, operators are tapping into newer shale reserves, which the U.S. Geological Survey says have more radium than traditional oil and gas reserves.

In recent years, Ohio has become a dumping ground for fracking waste because Ohio politicians have been pushing the fracking industry and neighbouring states have become stricter about how fracking waste can be thrown away. FracTracker, an organisation that keeps track of the fracking industry, says that in 2013, three municipal landfills in Ohio got more than 100,000 tonnes of solid fracking waste. In 2011, these same facilities did not handle more than 15,000 tonnes.

More and more of the waste from fracking that is dumped in Ohio comes from Pennsylvania. In 2011, Pennsylvania passed a number of laws to limit and control how fracking waste is thrown away within its borders. In 2013, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection estimated that about 100,000 tonnes of drill cuttings from fracking sites in Pennsylvania ended up in Ohio’s landfills.

Ohio is not the only state that has trouble getting rid of the tonnes of radioactive waste that comes from drilling sites. In North Dakota, where oil production has grown a lot in recent years, officials have been finding piles of filter socks, which are nets used to filter radioactive wastewater, dumped illegally in empty gas stations and along roads.

But the fact that Ohio is becoming more and more popular as a place to dump fracking waste has made many people in the state worried about protecting the public and making rules stricter.

In 2012, the Ohio Department of Health did tests to look into the risk of radioactive waste. This was done in response to growing pressure from concerned citizens and environmental groups. The levels of radioactivity in the sand used for fracking, the water that comes back up after the process, the rocks and minerals from the well, and the fluid used to drill the well were all measured by the department.

The drilling mud, which is a mixture of chemicals used to drill the well, was found to have levels of radium that were more than 100 times higher than what is safe for a local landfill. If federal law had been in effect, the waste would have had to be taken by truck to one of the few low-level radioactive waste sites in the country.

Every two years, Ohio passes a huge budget bill that can easily be used to make controversial policy changes without much public debate or openness. Last year, this is what happened when Kasich and the Republican-controlled State Senate tried to cram new rules for fracking into a huge spending bill.

First, the governor tried to add six measures to deal with concerns about how to deal with the growing amount of trash being made or dumped in Ohio.

As part of the measures, the “drilling mud” used in the fracking process had to be tested to see if it was contaminated. They also said that the testing had to be done by the Department of Health, which had been in charge of how radioactive waste and other materials were handled in the hospital and nuclear energy industries for a long time. But the measures also let most of the waste from the drilling process go unchecked.

The waste that wasn’t taken away was solidified rock and mud that had been in landfills for a long time and often got wet and snowy. Researchers say that if the liner of a landfill leaks or tears, the groundwater that people in the area use can become dirty.

Some people thought that the governor’s proposed changes should be talked about and looked at much more closely because of what they would mean.

“There was some talk [in the House] that since it was such a big piece of policy, it might be better to deal with it in a separate bill,” said an Ohio House of Representatives staffer, who asked not to be named because he didn’t want to upset his Republican colleagues.

Environmentalists in the state agreed, saying that the governor’s proposed changes didn’t do much to make oversight stricter and that experts in public health and the science of fracking were needed to give their opinions. They said that Ohio had an even bigger responsibility because radioactive waste from fracking was exempted at the federal level from a number of rules that are meant to protect the environment. So, most of the time, it’s up to state governments to keep an eye on radioactive waste.

State laws about fracking usually get a lot of media attention and public involvement, but that didn’t happen with the radioactive waste provisions that were tucked into the Ohio budget bill. Only the Ohio Environmental Council, the Ohio Sierra Club, Food and Water Watch, and the Ohio Oil and Gas Association spoke out about the plans.

Veterans of the fights over fracking in Ohio said that the debate would have been much stronger if the proposals had been part of a separate bill instead of just one part of a huge, very technical budget bill. It could have included scientists, people who own land, and people who already feel like their health has been hurt.

So, when things were pretty quiet, the Oil and Gas Association won a major point. The business world was against the governor’s idea that the Health Department test fracking waste.

Records show that people from the industry worked hard to keep the Department of Natural Resources in charge of all fracking waste. Officials said that a lot of the state’s oil and gas was already regulated by the agency for natural resources. The industry said that dividing up oversight duties would be wasteful and inefficient.

During a short, initial hearing, James Aslanides, president of MFC Drilling, spoke on behalf of the oil and gas industry. The hearing was held in front of a House committee that is looking into the governor’s ideas. He said that giving the Health Department a role in oversight would “blur the line between regulatory agencies.”

He said, “There is no problem.” “This is the classic case of a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.”

The environmentalists were very angry. The Ohio Department of Health has been in charge of how radioactive materials are used and thrown away for a long time. The department has an agreement with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to licence and inspect nuclear facilities. The Health Department also has to approve the disposal of any potentially radioactive waste that nuclear power plants make.

Many people thought it made sense for the department to decide what fracking materials needed to be tested and how they would be tested.

“The last time I looked, I couldn’t find anyone at the Department of Natural Resources who knew anything about radiation,” said Teresa Mills, an organiser in Ohio for the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, a Virginia-based advocacy group.

Officials from the Department of Natural Resources didn’t respond to a request to find a worker who has dealt with radiation before.

At first, it looked like the efforts of the industry had failed. The House committee took away all of the governor’s proposed regulations because it was clear that they needed their own bill and a longer public discussion.

But the measures came back up in the State Senate and were put back into the law right before a full vote on the budget bill. One of the things the industry wanted was included in the Senate’s rules: the Natural Resources Department would be in charge of testing any fracking waste.

Kasich signed the bill into law on June 30, 2013, after the House decided not to object to the Senate’s reintroduction of the measures.

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