TRAVERSE CITY — The company that spread toxic oil-field brine classified as industrial waste on Benzie County roads doesn’t know how it happened and their failure to come up with answers could lead to new statewide regulations.
Kalkaska-based Team Services LLC officials formally responded to a notice from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality that they violated state law when they spread toxic waste on two roads near Lake Ann.
Team Services’ Steve Kwapis wrote in a letter to the DEQ that it is “difficult to determine” how contaminated brine came to be spread because of the time that elapsed between the brine application and when they were notified of the problem.
“Either human error or a contaminated source well are the most likely causes,” Kwapis wrote.
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 can be used on roads for dust control.
Brine applied by Team Services this year to at least two dirt roads tested a thousand times above allowable limits for toxins and caused concerns among local residents about water well contamination and other potential health risks.
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.
Contamination could have occurred anywhere from one of the originating wells to the storage facility or one of the transporting trucks, DEQ officials said.
DEQ officials continue to investigate and expect to narrow the possible scenarios that caused the incident, but acknowledged they may never determine the exact cause.
“What makes it important is if (Team Services) could put their finger on it they could make sure it doesn’t happen again, but having loose ends makes it a little more difficult,” said Janice Heuer of the DEQ’s water resources division in Cadillac. “We want to tie those loose ends up.”