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Friday, July 11, 2014

Senate gives tentative OK to bill allowing companies to spread clay drilling waste on fields

BY BRENT D. WISTROM
Eagle Topeka bureau

Oil and gas drilling companies could spread clay shavings produced by fracking operations over fields in Kansas under a bill the Senate approved Thursday.

The 39-1 vote comes as southern Kansas is experiencing a surge of interest in horizontal drilling involving the hydraulic fracturing technique known widely as fracking.

The material that companies could spread atop Kansas fields does not involve the chemical cocktails that have raised alarm among environmental protection groups.

The spreading would involve clays, which often have high concentrations of chloride.

It’s viewed as a cheaper and more efficient way to get rid of massive amounts of waste created by horizontal drilling.

The alternative is hauling it to landfills, and officials say the landfill in Harvey County may be the only one accepting such materials.

Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, voiced support for drilling operations but said she had concerns about the impact of increasing the level of chlorides in areas where the Equus Beds aquifer is only a few feet below the surface and in areas near tributaries of the Little Arkansas River.

A Senate committee added some protections to address that.

One would require the materials to be incorporated into the soil, as opposed to being laid on top of soil, in areas with more than 25 inches of annual precipitation.

Another change bans spreading in areas where the water table is less than 10 feet below the surface or in areas with documented groundwater contamination.

Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, whose family used to be active in drilling, voiced concerns about how much the oil companies might disturb land, particularly areas of prairie restoration.

“I have seen the waste that comes from shallow wells,” she said. “I can just imagine what the horizontal drilling will bring. It’s dirty and it’s nasty and I really don’t want that on my pastures.”

Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer, R-Grinnell, said landowners who don’t want things spread on their fields don’t have to allow it.

He said spreading would be included as a part of any contracts landowners sign allowing companies to drill and that the material isn’t particularly dangerous.

“It’s more of a dirt,” he said.

Under the proposal, companies couldn’t spread any material that has chloride levels higher than 900 parts per million – or about two inches of material atop the soil.

State officials would review the quality of irrigation water in the area to ensure chlorides pumped out to water crops don’t push chloride levels to dangerous levels.

High levels of chloride can damage plants and can affect the taste of drinking water and make it more corrosive to water pipes.

The bill, SB 375, goes next to a House committee for more discussion.

Reach Brent Wistrom at 785-296-3006 or bwistrom@wichitaeagle.com.

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