TRAVERSE CITY — A Kalkaska company that spread toxic solvents on some Benzie County roads that were a thousand times stronger than state limits learned its fate following a review by Michigan regulators:
Do a self-investigation, don’t do it again, and clean up the mess.
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality officials determined oil field service company Team Services LLC violated its permit and environmental protection laws when it spread oil field brine on Benzie County roads that exceeded state limits for Benzene, Toluene, and other toxins.
Oil field brine is a byproduct of oil and gas drilling and sometimes is used as a cheap dust control agent, but DEQ officials classified a tested load as “liquid industrial waste” in a July 26 violation notice.
Regulators instructed Team Services to determine what happened and take steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
“I’m pleased and I’m kind of flabbergasted,” said Bryan Black, a Benzie County farmer and former oil industry welder who first raised concerns about the liquid a truck sprayed on dirt roads around his farm north of Lake Ann. “I would like the state to do what it is supposed to do and fine them ... or make them come out here and test all of our wells.
DEQ officials also told Team Services to provide a work plan to show how the company will test roads it covered with industrial waste, and how testing will show the chemicals no longer pose a threat to groundwater or direct contact.
Team Services officials were not available for comment.
DEQ officials are not discussing the incident. Rick Henderson, a supervisor for the DEQ’s Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals, declined comment and referred all questions to a DEQ spokesman who did not return calls seeking comment.
The Benzie County Road Commission paid Team Services $27,225 to spray over 300,000 gallons of brine on 121 miles of gravel roads. Road commission employees also take random samples from different loads and tested the truck that carried the industrial waste.
That test showed Benzene, a known carcinogen, at 28,000 micrograms per liter; Toluene, a toxin, came in at 1 million micrograms per liter; and the solvents ethylbenzene and xylenes tested at 130,000 and 750,000 micrograms per liter, respectively.
The state limit for oil field brine is 1,000 micrograms per liter for each component. Benzene was under the state limit for direct contact, but above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency limit for drinking water, which is 5 micrograms per liter.
The levels for toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes also exceeded state limits for direct contact.
“You take an oil company that is making millions of dollars and they are dumping their wastes on the road and getting paid to do it,” Black said. “That’s a heck of a business plan.”
Benzie road officials haven’t decided what action they may take in response to the situation, said Heather Jamison, road commission engineer/manager.
Benzie’s road commission typically orders two brine applications per summer, but for now will hold off on a second application. Road commissioners want to know the long-term effects from the waste and what can be done to ensure a similar situation doesn’t occur if they again use Team Services.
“We are concerned mostly because there are a lot of unknowns still,” Jamison said. “We have a lot of questions.”