The History of Road Dumping and Why Pennsylvania Should Ban It

Posted May 29, 2024, by Jason Capello

Ted Auch, FracTracker Alliance, 2015.
Ted Auch, FracTracker Alliance, 2015.

There is a long history of regulating “road dumping” which, essentially, is the disposal of oil and gas wastewater onto public roads. Due to some legislative loopholes, the by-product from conventional and unconventional drilling was legally allowed to be released on public roads, despite the number and concentration of harmful chemicals in this waste, until a moratorium prevented unconventional operators from doing so in 2016.

Then, in 2018, a statewide moratorium on road dumping for conventional operators was instituted - banning the practice for the entire oil and gas industry in Pennsylvania. However, even with a ban in place, road dumping persists to this day illegally because of the coproduct process - a separate process through DEP’s residual waste regulations that potentially allows the road application of oil and gas drilling wastewater. 

Coproduct determinations are a self-certification process that allows anyone generating waste to determine if that waste material has the same physical and chemical characteristics as an intentionally manufactured product or raw material. An investigation into the drillers who determined that their waste met the definition of a coproduct showed not a single driller properly followed the guidelines of the program and that none of the waste dumping reported to the DEP satisfied regulatory requirements, even within the context of the "loophole" program. This leads to where we are now:

Representative Vitali circulated a cosponsor memo asking House colleagues to support legislation banning the disposal of oil and gas wastewater by dumping it on any land in the state, developed or undeveloped.

Banning the disposal of oil and gas wastewater dumping addresses several concerns: the wastewater contains harmful chemicals, heavy metals, and other pollutants that can contaminate soil and waterways when dumped on public roads, as shown in a study released by Penn State and a report by Moody and Associates. The Penn State study shows the conventional drilling wastewater tested exceeds, and in many instances far exceeds, the environmental or health standards for 25 of the 31 parameters tested in the study. The report found the wastewater running off the roadways after dumping contains concentrations of barium, strontium, lithium, iron, and manganese that exceed human-health-based criteria and levels of radioactive radium that exceed industrial discharge standards. This can lead to environmental degradation, ecological harm, and health risks for nearby communities. Dumping wastewater on public roads can also damage road infrastructure over time, leading to increased maintenance costs for local governments and potentially compromising road safety. 

Overall, such a bill aims to protect local water supplies, prevent pollutants from damaging property and ecosystems, and reduce accelerated degradation of roadways. It will finally put an end to a ridiculous legislative loophole of inaction and destruction of our commonwealth's rights to clean air, pure water, and preservation of the natural, scenic, historic, and esthetic values of the environment.

For more information, check out Earthworks' All Costs, No Benefit: Oil & Gas Waste on PA Roadways


  • Jason Capello

    Jason Capello is a community advocate at CCJ. Jason has just recently moved back into the area, having left to teach in his hometown of Lebanon, Pa for the last 7 years. Jason has a Master’s Degree in Secondary Education: Science from Gwynedd Mercy University and a Bachelor’s in Environmental Studies from California University of Pa. No stranger to the field: Jason has worked for The Department of the Interior on the National Wildlife Refuge System, conducted/published research on environmental remediation, worked with local municipalities developing MS4 plans, monitoring protocols for pollutants and running educational outreach programs. Jason is excited to work in the community advocating for the people and habitats he now calls home. Contact Jason at jason@centerforcoalfieldjustice.org.

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