EDITOR’S NOTE: Newsmakers 2013 profiles people, places and events that made news in the Grand Traverse region during the past year.
TRAVERSE CITY — State officials never determined how toxic industrial waste ended up being sprayed on Benzie County roads as brine, but said their investigation will allow them to close loopholes in the oil-field brining process when they issue new statewide permits in 2015.
Brine applied by Kalkaska-based Team Services LLC on June 4, 2013, to Douglas and Fewins roads in the Lake Ann area tested 1,000 times above allowable limits for toxins and caused concerns among residents about water well contamination and other potential health risks.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality required Team Services to take soil borings in and around the roads to test for contamination. Tests were conducted in October, and all samples came in well below allowable thresholds for residential contact.
“That investigation is closed,” said Janice Heuer of the DEQ’s water resources division in Cadillac. “We weren’t able to identify the exact cause, but we were able to identify pathways. We feel the constructive resolution is to strengthen the permit in 2015.”
Brine, or saltwater, is a byproduct of oil and gas drilling and can contain harmful hydrocarbon contaminants that are both toxic and known carcinogens. The state sets limits on the levels of toxins that area road commissions use on roads for dust control.
The problem in this case was lag time, Heuer said. The Benzie County Road Commission took random samples of the brine before it was applied, but it was almost a month before they received test results and notified the DEQ. Heuer previously said she doubted this was the first time brine exceeded state thresholds, but the hydrocarbons volatilize, or evaporate quickly into the air.
The bad brine came from a storage facility at a disposal well in Manistee County that has seven connected storage tanks that hold everything from skim oil to road brine. DEQ officials reviewed logs but there was nothing left to test by the time they were notified of the problem.