A new Ohio House bill would allow the sale of commercialized brine produced during fracking and oil drilling for use on roadways — something Athens’ city officials plan to oppose.
Ohio House Bill 393, introduced by Ohio State Representatives Anthony Devitis, R, and Michael J. O’Brien, D, would allow the “sale of brine as a commodity for surface applications.”
That would mean that brine, a byproduct of oil and gas drilling, could be sold and sprayed on roads as a form of ice control. Athens City Council members expressed concerns about the potential toxicity of the brine.
“This means that ODOT, or the county or the city, could use brine and injection fluid from oil and gas fracking on the streets,” Athens City Councilwoman Chris Fahl, D-4th Ward, said at a council meeting Nov. 13. “This would open up a whole other area and would be so poisonous.”
Fahl said she plans to introduce an ordinance that would ban the city from spraying brine on its roadways.
Brine is leftover waste from the drilling process in both fracking and conventional drilling, according to a report by the Connecticut General Assembly. According to the report, the process of fracking involves injecting fluids and chemicals into the earth to fracture shale formations and collecting the fuel.
“The process produces high volumes of wastewater that must be treated, recycled or safely disposed,” the report reads. “The wastewater is generally classified in two categories: flowback fluid, which is the fracturing fluid (the mix of water, sand and chemicals) that returns to the surface when production starts, and production brine (also called produced water, formation water or simply ‘brine’) … Waste from fracking operations is exempt from federal hazardous waste regulations, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).”
While the brine is naturally occurring and isn’t considered hazardous waste, some experts say brine from deep within the earth can contain toxic elements. According to a report by Scientific American, the brine can even be radioactive.
“A 2014 U.S. Geological Survey study analyzed roadside sediment where produced brine from conventional wells had been spread as a de-icer and found elevated levels of radium, strontium, calcium and sodium,” according to the report. “Radium is radioactive and can thus be carcinogenic. At high concentrations, sodium can be unhealthy for humans and animals.”
The Ohio Department of Transportation does not use brine from oil or gas drilling processes on Ohio’s highways, but it is legal in Ohio, according to the report. A report by Newsweek states using brine is legal in several other states, including Pennsylvania.
The brine can be up to 10 times saltier than regular road salt and comes much cheaper, according to the Newsweek report. The report notes that most brine used on roads comes from conventional drilling rather than fracking, but brine from conventional drilling is almost identical to fracking brine.
Ohio’s laws are currently vague on fracking, according to the Scientific American report.
“Ohio … does not require gas and oil well tests for every application before the raw brine is used as a de-icer,” according to the report. “State law does limit where, when and how much produced brine can be spread on roads but leaves it up to local authorities to approve individual applications.”
Athens City Councilwoman Michele Papai, D-3rd Ward, said she didn’t understand why state legislators introduced the new legislation in the first place.
“Surrounding states have had some of this in the past, and many of those states have stopped using brine on their roads,” Papai said. “I’m a little bit confused as to what our state representatives are up to with this. Other than for profit, I can’t think of any other reason. Obviously not the health and welfare of the people of Ohio.”
Editor's note: This report has been updated to reflect a previous version of the article and clarify which type of brine ODOT does not use. A correction that included inaccurate information about ODOT's use of brine from oil or gas drilling processes has been removed from the article.