BY JEREMY MOULE
As New York’s fracking debate churns along, the issue of what to do with the waste water persists. That debate is now playing out in Monroe County government, which operates the Van Lare waste water treatment plant and a much smaller one in Hilton.
Monroe County is not a current target of gas drilling companies; most of their focus is on the Southern Tier. But the companies could approach county officials about disposing of fracking waste water at the county’s treatment facilities.
Democratic County legislators have been pushing the administration to disclose its policies and internal discussions pertaining to fracking waste water treatment. Administration officials say they won’t make a broad policy to reject requests to treat fracking waste. Instead, they say, requests would be addressed case by case.
“We would handle it like any other waste water,” says county spokesperson Justin Feasel.
Democrats have also questioned whether the county’s facilities are equipped to properly treat the waste water. The answer is complicated and depends in part on the waste’s composition, says Justin Roj, deputy commissioner of the county’s Department of Environmental Services. The mixture of chemicals, salts, and radioactive elements differs, depending on the source.
The state regulates and issues permits for waste water treatment facilities, and the permits ultimately limit the wastes a plant can treat. The state’s draft environmental statement on high-volume hydraulic fracturing addresses those permits. It lays out how municipal plants could apply for permit changes that would allow them to accept and treat fracking waste water.
Under that process, the plant operator would have to analyze the composition of the waste water it wants to treat and whether the facility could handle it. The DEC and the federal Environmental Protection Agency would also conduct reviews.
Emily DeSantis, a spokesperson for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, says that right now, no New York waste water treatment plants are permitted to accept and treat fracking waste water. In the draft environmental statement, the DEC acknowledges that municipal plants may not be equipped to adequately remove the salts and the dissolved solids present in the waste.
Ultimately, the discussion in Monroe County hits on the broader issue of whether New York officials ought to allow high-volume hydraulic fracturing at all. If the in-state treatment plants can’t handle the waste, is New York truly prepared for a sudden surge in fracking?