Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 19, 2013

Editorial: Ban brine use until there's better answers

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — Team Services LLC’s explanation that it doesn’t have an explanation for how oil-field brine classified as industrial waste got sprayed onto some roads in Benzie County is unacceptable.

And for now, unacceptable should mean testing of all oilfield brine before it is applied to roads anywhere in the state; if it doesn’t pass muster, it can’t be used. Testing should be mandatory until the state creates a foolproof system to ensure that the stuff being sprayed on a road is what it is claimed to be, and nothing else.

In the meantime, state officials must still find out what happened in Benzie, determine the possible environmental repercussions, and explain to the public why there weren’t safeguards in place to prevent such an incident in the first place.

This is not a new process. Brine and other materials - many of them toxic or even known carcinogens - have been sprayed on dirt roads to keep down the dust in the summer for decades. So how is it that the state doesn’t have better controls in place to ensure that what is being sprayed is safe?

Team Services’ Steve Kwapis wrote in a letter to the Deparment of Environmental Quality that it is “difficult to determine” how the contaminated brine was applied in Benzie County because of the time between the application and when Team Services was notified of the problem.

“Either human error or a contaminated source well are the most likely causes,” Kwapis wrote.

The bad brine came from a storage facility at a disposal well in Manistee County that is connected to seven linked 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 trucks used to haul the stuff, DEQ officials said.

The brine applied by Team Services to at least two dirt roads in Benzie County tested a thousand times above allowable limits for toxins. Residents raised concerns about water well contamination and other potential health risks.

Beyond figuring out what happened, the DEQ must also take a closer look at the chemicals involved and their possible environmental impact. Environmental consultant Chris Grobbel told Interlochen Public Radio that the DEQ’s analysis will only look for toxins routinely tested in oil and gas well brine. He said those chemicals evaporate quickly but there are dozens of others that take longer to break down and are a threat to groundwater that should be looked for.

He also said the study won’t track whether people who live on the roads where the brine was spread may have been exposed and if chemicals were tracked into people’s homes.

Obviously, the potential exists for this to be larger problem and the DEQ must undertake a significant, far-reaching study of what happened, what’s in the brine and possible long-term effects. This isn’t business as usual.