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Another Recycling Sham: Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Industries’ Wastewater


Dust from roads is likely not a pressing concern for many Americans living in urban areas with paved roads, but for rural communities in Pennsylvania, dust suppression for unpaved roads and the chemicals used for this process create serious health and environmental issues of imminent concern. One cheap or sometimes free method of dust suppression used in these communities is to spread produced water—wastewater from the oil and gas industry—on unpaved roads. Despite a moratorium on this practice after studies revealed the toxic nature of produced water, including its radioactivity, a loophole in Pennsylvania’s regulations allows the practice to continue.

This loophole allows the oil and gas industry to spread its produced water on roads if it is no more harmful than a commercial product the waste is replacing. The regulations’ reliance on industry self-regulation with practically nonexistent governmental oversight has allowed for widespread noncompliance. Even if the industry fully complied with the regulations, since the commercial product used as a comparison is also toxic and virtually unregulated, the produced water does not have to be safe.

Closing this loophole would prevent the oil and gas industry from spreading toxic waste through regulations that rely on an inherently unsafe “safety” standard. Although this solution would not address the toxic commercial products that are used for dust suppression, it treats one symptom of the larger problem of environmental regulation in the United States that prioritizes convenience over safety and forces marginalized communities to bear the consequences of this prioritization.