Landfills hope for oil and gas drilling waste bonanza

Published: Sun, August 11, 2013 @ 12:10 a.m.

By Peter H. Milliken


Local landfill managers are bullish about the prospect of boosting their business volume by accepting waste from oil and gas drilling.

“That’s a whole new industry, and it will produce, we hope, a nice volume for us, and you’ll be the beneficiaries of that,” Mike Heher, manager of Allied Waste Services’ Carbon-Limestone Landfill in Poland, recently told the Mahoning County Solid Waste Policy Committee.

The committee is an advisory panel to the county recycling division, which is funded by fees paid by local landfills for each ton of waste dumped there. Those fees are $1.50 per ton for waste originating in Mahoning County or out-of-state, and $3 a ton for Ohio waste originating outside of Mahoning County.

“We’re on the cusp of things breaking,” said Jerry Ross, senior district manager for Waste Management Inc., which operates the Mahoning Landfill in Springfield Township.

“Most of the new wells are generating somewhere between 60 and 80 tons of drill cuttings [soil and rock] a day for about the first 20 to 25 days,” Ross said. “What used to be left at the drill site now goes to the landfill.”

“With the opening of some of the fractionation plants in Carroll and Harrison counties, production is going to jump tremendously,” Ross told the committee.

Fractionation plants are natural-gas processing plants.

The newly drilled oil and gas wells have just begun producing in Northeast Ohio and western Pennsylvania, and the Carbon-Limestone and Mahoning landfills are closest to the wells being drilled in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys, Heher said. Other landfills that can take drilling waste are in the Pennsylvania areas of Erie, Butler and Pittsburgh, he added.

On the Carbon-Limestone property, one well that has been producing since May feeds a pipeline going to Dominion East Ohio gas. Six additional wells are being drilled at the landfill, and all of their waste will be dumped in the landfill, Heher said.

Although Carbon-Limestone is authorized to accept drilling mud and rock waste from oil and gas drilling, it cannot accept brine or radioactive waste, Heher said.

Drilling mud is a fluid mixture that is used as a drilling lubricant and to carry rock cuttings to the surface.

Annual landfill reports show that southeast Ohio landfills’ waste dumping volumes dramatically increased from 2011 to 2012 due to the oil-and-gas industry waste they’ve accepted, Heher told the committee. The same waste volume increases are occurring in landfills in the West Virginia panhandle and near Pittsburgh, Heher said.

Although the landfill managers are bullish, local recycling officials are taking a wait-and-see attitude.

“I still don’t think we budget going into next year on what we anticipate will come in, because there’s no guarantee they’ll even flow it [the drilling waste] to our local landfills,” said Lou Vega, county recycling director. “We have to budget as if it’s not happening.”

If revenue from oil and gas drilling waste dumping at Mahoning County’s two active landfills actually rises significantly in 2014, however, it can be considered in the division’s 2015 budget planning, Vega told the committee.

“Every single year, we say, ‘Well, this is going to turn around. Revenue’s going to come back in. The economy’s going to turn around.’ That’s why we’re in a deficit,” Jennifer Jones, Youngstown litter control and recycling coordinator, said of county recycling division finances.

The recycling division expects to collect about $2.3 million in revenue this year, spend about $2.9 million and cover the difference with about $600,000 in carry-over money from 2012 to 2013, entering next year with no carry-over, Vega said.

The county recycling division has suffered revenue losses due to reduced landfill dumping in recent years and the closure of Central Waste Landfill in Smith Township last year.

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