ODNR director concerned about oil brine bills

Larry Limpf

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has raised concerns about two bills pending in the state legislature, claiming they would, if passed, weaken regulations covering the use of brine from oil fields, including the spreading of brine on roads as a de-icer.
Companion bills House Bill 282 and Senate Bill 171 are being heard before the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee and Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. Under the bills, brine that meets certain criteria would be deemed a commodity and be exempt from some provisions of state law.
In a letter to the chairmen of the committees, Mary Mertz, director of the ODNR, contends the commodity exception would create public safety concerns by:
- Eliminating the requirement for a person or entity wanting to spread brine deemed a commodity to notify their local board of county commissioners.
- Eliminating the requirement that local governments wanting to spread the brine on roads to first adopt a resolution.
- Eliminating the requirement to use registered brine haulers for surface application of oil field brine.
- Eliminating the requirements for bonding and insurance for liability for brine haulers.
- Eliminating regulatory authority over oil field wastes classified as a commodity, including tracking and safety protection.

“The Department of Natural Resources and the Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management have met numerous times with the company who is seeking this legislative change,” the Mertz letter says. “Under the previous General Assemblies, where the same legislation has been proposed, accommodations via law change have been made while still providing the necessary regulatory protections, such as lowering the one-time brine hauler fee from $500 to $50. However, in its third legislative iteration, HB 282/SB 171 does not ensure the protection of public health and safety or the environment.”
Several environmental organizations have provided opponent testimony on the bills and point to one product – AquaSalina – as particularly worrisome because it contains toxic substances and could be sold to unsuspecting retail consumers.
“We will continue to fight these bills no matter how many times they come before the General Assembly,” said Teresa Mills, executive director of the Buckeye Environmental Network.
Roxanne Groff, a member of the Ohio Brine Task Force and a former Athens County commissioner, said the group applauded the ODNR taking a position on the issue.
Under current law, the processing or disposing of brine is prohibited without a permit or order from the chief of the Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management.
The bill would create a system by which someone could sell brine as a commodity if it doesn’t come from a horizontal well and is processed to remove free oil, dissolved organic compounds and other contaminants.
Permit holders must have sample analysis results confirming the commodity doesn’t exceed certain standards for substances such as arsenic, lead, cadmium, toluene, radium -226, radium 228, zinc, benzene and others.
The bill authorizes the chief of the division to suspend the sale if a sampling shows the commodity exceeds the standards.
In her letter, Mertz offers a hypothetical scenario: (A church hires a contractor to spread the brine on its parking lot for ice control. The contractor overspreads the brine because it charges by the gallon. The overspreading impacts off-site private water wells. The owner of the wells contacts the ODNR about the impact to the wells and the division investigates nearby oil and gas wells and tank batteries to find a source but can’t find one. The source may never be found due to the loss of regulations that would require the spreader to report annually the locations where it was spread and the volumes.)
In his testimony before the committee, Dave Mansbery, owner of Duck Creek Energy, Inc. and Nature’s Own Source, which processes raw saltwater brine from conventional oil and gas wells into the AquaSalina product, said current law needs to be revised to provide additional guidance for private sector users of the product.
“ODNR’s position is that even after we have processed raw brine to remove oil and gas constituents, anyone using our product must register as a …brine hauler, pay the $50 fee, as well as track and report to ODNR where they use our product and how much is used,” he said. “That includes anyone who decides to go purchase a 2-gallon container of my product at retail stores across the state. My question is why? This places my product at a competitive disadvantage when someone can buy a bag of salt or a product that contains the same chemical composition without government fees or reporting obligations.”
He said the Ohio Department of Health concluded in March 2018 the application of the material poses a negligible radiological health risk to the public.
Mansbery told the committee he opened a second facility to accommodate demand, including from the Ohio Department of Transportation and the Ohio Turnpike Commission.


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