The public comment period ended July 21 on a request by Hyland Landfill to increase its waste acceptance rate by 49%
The purpose of the increase is to take wastes from Marcellus Shale drilling sites in Pennsylvania, and to prepare for more wastes from fracking in New York should it be permitted. As Pennsylvania authorities impose more stringent requirements on the massive amounts of wastewater shale gas development generates, the sludges and residues removed from reused drilling fluids are creating a growing waste stream.
Hyland wants to take the most radioactive types of wastes, those generated from drilling fluids, storage pond liners, spills and dismantling drilling pads. These materials concentrate radioactivity occurring naturally in Marcellus Shale.
Comments must be submitted by the deadline to: Mary E. Hohmann, NYSDEC, 182 East Union Ste 3, Allegany, NY 14706-1328. DEC's phone number is: (716) 372-0645. Comments can be sent on or before July 21 by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hyland's application, draft permits and additional supporting materials are provided below, following a detailed account of the background.
What action is DEC considering?
The NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has tentatively determined it will approve a request by Hyland Landfill to increase its waste acceptance rate from 1,200 tons per day to 1,790 tons per day, and from 312,000 tons per year to 465,000 tons. Hyland has been disposing Pennsylvania Marcellus shale drill cuttings and spill-contaminated soils since October 2010. Public comments on the environmental and health impacts that should be considered may result in DEC's denial of the request.
Two permits are proposed for modification, the state (Part 360) operating permit, and a federal Clean Air Act (Title V) operating permit, which is supposed to collect all applicable CAA requirements under one permit easy to understand for the general public.
Consideration of air emissions is very limited
The Title V permit must be modified based on DEC's determination that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions would increase significantly if the increased waste rate is approved, and that without the increase Hyland Landfill is a "major source" of GHG emisions. However, other regulated air pollutants would not increase, according to DEC. These other pollutants include about one percent of the landfill's emissions that are toxic. GHG emissions are principally the remainder of the emissions, about half carbon dioxide, half methane, both odorless. Several years ago Hyland installed gas wells and collectors into already build landfill cells to reduce odors. The collected landfill gas is burned in a gas-to-energy plant located onsite, which sells electricity to National Grid, or it is burned by an open flare. Both end-fates destroy through combustion the toxics in the collected gas.
However, no more than 75% of the gas generated by the landfill is able to be collected in this way. The remainder escapes into the surrounding air.
DEC has determined that the toxic portion of the gas generated by Hyland would not increase significantly, and therefore enhanced monitoring, testing and controls required by programs designed to control air toxics are not required.
DEC found that no "significant" adverse environmental or health effects will occur
DEC has also determined that no other changes to the Part 360 permit are warranted because the size of the landfill would not change, it would just be filled faster and thus reach the end of its permitted lifetime sooner. The added impacts of increased truck traffic (including truck emissions), increased use of on site landfill roads, increased leachate generation, and the need for increased daily cover and road bedding materials (which are added to the waste in the landfill) would, according to DEC, not be significant. (Note: daily cover and road bedding materials are permitted as a percentage of the waste accepted, up to 20% and 10%, respectively.) Accordingly, DEC supports its tentative decision to issue the modified permit with a "Negative Declaration" of environmental significance, i.e., DEC has determined that apart from increased GHG emissions, approval of the waste rate increase will result in no other "significant" adverse impacts.
Concerns about exposure to radiation
However, there are concerns that the disposal of substantial volumes of drilling wastes from Marcellus Shale drill sites in Pennsylvania have increased the environmental impacts of Hyland's operations in ways that have been insufficiently considered. Hyland has been disposing Marcellus Shale drill cuttings since October 2010.
Last year Hyland's Part 360 operating permit was modified without public notice to allow it to solidify liquid wastes from Marcellus Shale drill sites. In addition, Hyland disposes sludge and filtration residues from off site treatment plants treating liquid wastes at Marcellus Shale drill sites.
Drill cuttings from Marcellus Shale are elevated in radioactivity compared to background. Both New York and Pennsylvania authorities acknowledge that the cuttings (ground-up rock) contain naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM). The U.S. EPA and Pennsylvania authorities consider Marcellus Shale industry wastes to be technologically enhanced NORM (TENORM).
The drill cuttings are received at the landfill wet, and these wastes as well as the sludges and residues are considered "solid waste" permitted for disposal even if up to 20% of their volume is liquid. DEC's draft environmental assessment of high-volume horizontal hydrofracking notes that liquid coming into contact with the Marcellus Shale can be as much as 1,000 times more radioactive than the radioactivity in the surface environment.
How will additional drilling wastes at Hyland affect the public?
At the Chemung County Landfill, operated by Casella under a lease, after DEC approved the disposal of Marcellus Shale drill cuttings in 2011, Casella diverted most of the county's waste to other landfills it operates in order to devote the maximum of the landfill's permitted space to Marcellus Shale wastes. Accordingly, Allegany County citizens are conerned that the reason for the current request to increase waste is to take even greater volumes of such wastes.
If the landfill's contents become progressively more radioactive, including radionuclides like Radium-226 which are soluble in water, the landfill's leachate may also become more radioactive over time. The principle facility receiving Hyland's leachate is the Wellsville public water treatment plant, but that plant cannot remove radioactivity, and it discharges its treated wastewater to the Genesee River.
If substantial volumes of NORM accumulate in the landfill, radon emissions may harm local residents.
In the Environmental Assessment accompanying its Title V modification application, Hyland states the reason for the request is to accomodate "high demand for waste disposal in the western New York region." (see link below) However, this statement was made in 2007, before Hyland contemplated receiving large volumes of naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM) in Marcellus Shale wastes.
The purpose of the public comment period is to allow citizens to review the supporting documentation that justifies these determinations and to submit their own opinions on whether the added impacts will be significant, and whether the justifications for conclusions supporting approval are adequate. Citizens may also wish to question how the emissions estimates on which DEC's decisions rely were arrived at, for example, whether all the assumptions behind the calculations are warranted.
DEC's draft proposed Title V air operating permit is accompanied by a "Permit Report" in which DEC is supposed to make understandable to the lay public why air pollution control programs are or are not applicable, how and why the provisions for monitoring emissions were chosen, and why any change in emissions is "insignificant." The Permit Report is termed a "Statement of Basis" under Title V and it must be sufficient to do its job. If it does not successfully explain the basis for the proposed permit, citizens should identify in their comments why not.
The way the emissions estimates were calculated is also described in Hyland's Title V application and its supporting calculations. Citizens should look at the supporting documentation submitted with the application to determine for themselves whether expected adverse impacts of the increased waste rate like truck traffic were considered at all. There may be more or less obvious factors that should have been considered but were not.
There may also be documents referred to in the application and other supporting materials citizens need to look at in order to understand how DEC arrived at its conclusions, but these documents are not readily available. In that case, the documents should be identified in a comment letter requesting additional time to comments. This is in addition to supporting materials or considerations that are not referred to in the application but perhaps should be.
No public hearing is scheduled to allow the public to express their concerns to DEC. However, if the number and substance of public comments are significant, DEC is authorized to hold a public hearing.
The documents listed below are available by clicking on the associated highlighted link. These do not exhaust the supporting information DEC is relying on to approve Hyland's request, but they should be helpful in understanding the request and DEC's approach to permitting it.