Traverse City Record-Eagle

Our Views

January 5, 2014

Editorial: DEQ's failure to address brine 'loopholes' unacceptable

The state Department of Environmental Quality’s investigation of an incident in which toxic industrial waste was sprayed on Benzie County roads raises questions as to whether state environmental officials are failing in their charge to regulate, not just observe, the state’s oil and gas industry.

The DEQ closed an investigation into how the industrial waste — including known cancer-causing chemicals — was sprayed on Benzie County roads without finding out how it happened or how to guarantee it doesn’t happen again.

Instead, state officials say they’ll take what they learned from the spraying incident and use it to help close loopholes in state rules regulating oil-field brining process — but not until new statewide permits are issued in 2015.

That’s unacceptable. If there are “loopholes” in the law that could again allow some company to mistakenly spray toxic chemicals on rural roads, they should be addressed and closed before the next brining season, not a year or more from now.

What other business is so pressing that it prevents the DEQ from doing its job today, right now, instead of waiting? How is that acceptable?

Back in June Kalkaska-based Team Services LLC sprayed what was supposed to be oil field brine on Douglas and Fewins roads near Lake Ann. Farmer Bryan Black complained the stuff smelled more like toxic chemicals than saltwater-based brine and alerted the Benzie County Road Commission, which dealt with the DEQ. Eventually the stuff was found to contain toxins at levels 1,000 times above allowable limits.

The DEQ ordered Team Services to take soil borings in and around the roads to test for contamination. Tests weren’t conducted until October — four months after the fact — and all samples came in well below allowable thresholds for residential contact.

But the DEQ couldn’t determine what had happened

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