For years, the Keystone Sanitary Landfill, a privately owned and operated municipal solid waste landfill located in Dunmore, PA (a Scranton suburb) has accepted already-processed cuttings, or rock waste, from Marcellus Shale drillers. The landfill filed a permit application in December with the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that would allow it to accept unprocessed cuttings—cuttings in a non-solid form—and mix it with a lime-based material to solidify it. The process of mixing it is called milling.
The landfill uses milled cuttings as a soil replacement to cover the landfill at the end of each day.
The landfill has been accepting cuttings for years from Marcellus Shale drillers who mix it with lime or sawdust at their well sites. The cuttings are displaced as the drillers bore to and through the gas-bearing rock about a mile underground.
Keystone accepts 600 tons of cuttings daily, the landfill said last spring in an application to increase its total daily waste capacity, which is pending. It wants to increase its daily intake of cuttings to at least 1,000 tons – the processing capacity of the mill.
The cuttings will be captured in water-tight containers placed at drill sites, trucked to the landfill and processed six days a week, according to the application.
Penn State Cooperative Extension associate David Yoxtheimer, a member of the university’s Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research, said it makes sense for the landfill to want to process the rock waste itself so the finished product used for daily cover is uniform.
"It would ensure they would get a more consistent material that meets their needs," he said, "rather than get 10 different companies giving them the material which would probably vary in composition and texture."
It might also be appealing to gas drillers, whose space at a well site is limited and whose costs might be higher with the current practice of processing containers of waste on site, one by one, he said.*
But municipal leaders in the adjoining borough of Throop fear that there may be acidic runoff when rainwater washes through the cuttings.
Keystone does not expect the cuttings to change the chemistry of the landfill’s wastewater, called leachate, which is treated then discharged through sewer lines to the Scranton Sewer Authority, according to its application. But it is not entirely sure what might concentrate in the rain and wash water that runs off the mill site into its treatment system.
"Given that this process is the first of its kind in Pennsylvania, there is not data on the exact makeup of the wash water that will be collected, stored and disposed of as a result of Keystone’s drill cuttings processing facility," the landfill wrote in its application.
Such unknowns have alarmed Throop officials, who petitioned the DEP to consider the mill proposal a "major," not "minor," modification of the landfill’s permit – a classification that would trigger a more thorough public vetting of the project.
"Throop Council feels there is enough information confirming the need for a change in the approved leachate collection and treatment method, change in the groundwater monitoring plan, and the submission of a radiation protection action plan," all items that should trigger a major permit review, council solicitor Louis A. Cimini wrote in a Jan. 11 letter.
DEP continues to consider the proposal a minor permit modification, a spokeswoman said.
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*Scranton Times Tribune (Feb 6, 2012) – Landfill proposes to mill Marcellus waste