Company Gets Permit to Handle Radioactive Waste
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- Activists in Ohio are concerned that a local company may soon be handling waste from the oil and gas industry that they say is just too hot to handle. But a principal of the operation says that the objective of his company is to protect the environment and to ensure safety, especially when it comes to "hot" radioactive material generated from drilling operations in the Utica and Marcellus shale plays.
"I understand their concerns," says Pat Horkman, principal and Ohio field manager for Austin Masters Services, based in Pottsville, Pa. "But they should be happy we're here."
Ohio has licensed Austin Masters Services to handle radioactive material and the firm would be conducting tests and analyses on materials moving through Industrial Waste Disposal/Ground Tech Inc.'s site at 240 Sinter Court.
In February, Industrial Waste Control/Ground Tech Inc., was awarded a permit to perform "radiological waste characterization, tank cleaning and decontamination, waste solidification, brine storage, and preparation for disposal operations."
"What's great about our technology is that we have the ability to test the entire contents of a container without it ever coming out of the box," Horkman says.
Austin Masters can test and detect levels of radioactivity in waste generated from oil and gas drilling sites without any exposure. "It can’t go to the landfill without us testing it, Horkman says. “We're policing the industry. We run trucks through, analyze them, and then they go away. No material is ever released."
The technology has been used for years in other industries, but this is the first time Austin Masters has tried to apply it to the oil and gas industry.
Thus far, the company hasn't secured a customer, so no such material has come through the operation.
"We thought it would be a great fit for the oil and gas industry," Horkman says, and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources thought so, too.
Activists say that the Youngstown operation is situated in a densely populated area and they are concerned that ODNR is not acting in the best interests of the public when it awards permits for oil waste handling and disposal.
Moreover, they say that ODNR, the chief regulatory agency for oil and gas industry in the state, should be more forthcoming about the quantities of toxic waste transported across Ohio.
"We really do have more questions than answers now," says Lea Harper, co-founder and managing director at the Fresh Water Accountability Project, based in Grand Rapids, Ohio.
Harper asserts that the state has placed permits for waste disposal sites and processing centers on the fast track before new rules take effect that would place more regulations on the industry.
"These facilities are being grandfathered ahead of the rules, and permitted without the rules in place," she says. "Nothing should be done until these regulations are in place."
In a statement released to the press last week, the group lists 23 disposal or waste-handling operations that were recently issued permits, one of which is the Industrial Waste Control project in Youngstown.
The permits were issued without adequate public notice, Harper contends, or the ability to appeal beyond the 30-day limit, since many were awarded during the holiday season.
Harper says the industry has to be held accountable as to where this waste -- especially naturally occurring radioactive waste -- goes once it leaves the ground. "Where does it go?” she asks. “Does it go into an abandoned building like in North Dakota? There are so many precursors in other states where this is causing problems."
At the core of the problem is that ODNR is the sole authority when it comes to sanctioning the oil and gas industry and the disposal of toxic and radioactive waste in the state, she says.
"We're not given records in time to alert people as to what is going on," Harper says. "People have the right to know what's happening in their community. We have to be the watchdogs."
As such, the Fresh Water Accountability Project has asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to revoke ODNR's authority to issue permits, according to a letter sent to the U.S. EPA office in Chicago.
"We believe that the ODNR has enacted a secret permitting process to serve the industry it is known to promote," said the attorney for the group, Terry Lodge in a letter dated April 14 to the U.S. EPA. "We want the U.S. EPA to revoke ODNR's permitting authority, and we also hope that Gov. [John] Kasich is held accountable for his role to allow fracking and its toxic waste dumping to overtake Ohio without necessary rules and regulations in place."
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