Responsible Drilling Alliance

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Return(s) to Sender

The Pennsylvania Grand Canyon (Photo credit: MARIE CUSICK / STATEIMPACT PENNSYLVANIA

  By Ralph Kisberg

Clean Earth, Inc., the company with the oxymoronic name, appears to be running into a bit of trouble.

RDA thanks Bryn Hammarstrom of Tioga County’s Pine Creek Headwaters Protection Group (PCHPG) for the update on this corporation that once had big plans for “beneficial reuse” of horizontal and vertical gas well bore waste. The company hoped to mix “drilling returns” with cement and dispose of it as “engineered fill” for all kinds of creative uses.

You may recall RDA’s report on Clean Earth’s brilliant plan to extend the runway at the Tioga County airport with 400,000 tons of their waste product. PCHPG led the public outcry that foiled plans to bring drill cuttings (that often contain heavy metals and radioactive materials) from deep underground and place them near the surface in the Pine Creek Watershed near the edge of the PA Grand Canyon.

Hammarstrom reminds us, that “drilling returns” are labeled “residual waste” in Pennsylvania due the federal exemption of oil and gas exploration by-products from the usual handling of hazardous waste. Quoting from an EPA document:

“Exemption of Oil and Gas Exploration and Production Wastes from Federal Hazardous Waste Regulations”: In addition, although they are relieved from regulation as hazardous wastes, the exemption does not mean these wastes could not present a hazard to human health and the environment if improperly managed.”

Clean Earth’s 5-year R&D permit from the PA DEP to experiment with their product expired in March of this year. One project that was rumored to have been proposed, likely in the damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don’t category for DEP, was to cap coal mine waste from the Fisher Mine in northwestern Lycoming County so storm water run off from a pile of it would no longer leach mine acid into the Pine Creek basin. It doesn’t appear that one got off the drawing board either. This in spite of the fact that we all know, of course, that cement never deteriorates. It is the one eternally impermeable material.

Another CE project in Lycoming County ended up being approved for eight-tenths of a mile of roadway on the Bobst Mountain Hunting Club using some 4,000 tons of the mix. Hammarstrom reports that Clean Earth (CE) did not finish the project. He says, DEP made an on-site inspection March 2nd, confirming the work had not been completed, and ordered a halt to CE’s activity.

According to Hammarstrom, a second DEP inspection was done at Bobst Mountain last week, and a conference held between DEP and CE to discuss CE’s failure to complete its project. He says, among possible outcomes are civil/ financial penalties, and a freeze on consideration of CE’s 2016 General Permit application for further use of their engineered fill.

  As of April 25, 2017 Clean Earth Inc. no longer has a Lycoming County facility listed on their website.

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