Sunday, July 10, 2011

No More Drilling Waste for Auburn

A June 2 rally at City Hall calling for ban on wastewater.
Three days ago the Auburn City Council voted 3-1 to stop taking drilling waste fluids at the publicly-owned wastewater treatment plant. For the past decade or more Auburn has padded the city budget with income derived from accepting drilling waste fluids. But no more – and that leaves the city fathers wondering how to plug a $600,000 hole in the budget. You see, drilling companies pay big bucks to get rid of the stuff that comes back out of the “hole”.  

The first hour of the City Council meeting was taken up by public comment. People were concerned about potential threats to water supplies, streams, plants and wildlife from the drilling waste. How can the council support a frack ban and then allow the wastewater treatment plant to accept frack waste, asked one person?

The reason: money. Terry Cuddy who, with his wife Beth, helped found the Cauyuga Anti-Fracking Alliance submitted a FOIL request for documents. They found that from June 2009 to July 2010 the City of Auburn raked in $900,000 for treatment of 16.5 million gallons of drilling waste fluids.

Four companies –  Anschutz, Talisman (Fortuna), Southwest Energy Company and Chesapeake Energy – trucked waste fluids to Auburn. Except for Southwest, who transported drilling waste from Bradford and Susquehanna Counties in PA, the drilling waste fluid came from Trenton-Black River and Queenston wells in NY.

Lab reports show that drillers did not test chlorides, sodium, total dissolved solids, barium or strontium. Also missing in some reports were some data for surfactants, gels and volatile organic chemicals – benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene and xylene.

“We were told that this stuff is OK, that it is from vertical wells,” Cuddy said. “But we realized that ‘vertical’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘good’ drilling wastewater.” This spring PA announced they will no longer allow their plants to accept drilling wastewater. Cuddy’s group worked hard to get similar protections for their community.
The Auburn City Council spent some time on regular business before bringing the resolution to prohibit drilling wastes to the floor. Councilor Matthew Smith had a long list of questions for Vicky Murphy, director of municipal utilities. After pointing out that none of the drilling fluids came from Marcellus or Utica shale, he tried to table the resolution, to no avail. His was the single “Nay”.

“This plant is under capacity,” Smith said. “Our biggest loss will be the revenue.”

1 comment:

  1. One critical comment on this post: beware of phrases like "pay big bucks." Is $600,000 a lot of money for most of us? Absolutely. But a big piece of the fracking debate -- indeed, the whole energy industry debate -- is what are you really selling, and what is it really worth? Everything I've ever seen leads me to believe that the energy industry NEVER pays more than about 10 cents on the dollar for whatever it buys. They paid you 600K? I suspect you sold them something with a value (or a cost) of more like 6 mil.

    Jim H.