According to the 1992 GEIS, flow back water and cuttings could be stored in a surface pit dug from the ground and lined with plastic. Contents of the pit would eventually be removed if oil conditions or pit construction did not cause the fluid and cuttings to escape prematurely. The 2009 DSGEIS appeared to endorse this methodology of flow back water retention and discuss the fact that there could be alternatives to this method. The revised DSGEIS published in 2011 now states that 100% of the flow back water will be recaptured in tanks on site to be removed from the site on a periodic basis. The only exception to this rule will be if a special environmental review is undertaken by the driller and the DEC feels confident that adequate protections are put in place and the circumstances warrant an exception to the standard permitting rules.
This is a very important issue for landowners. Many of the incidents involving hydrofracking fluids released into the environment have come as a direct result of storing the flow back water in surface pits. Such events as tropical storm systems, freezes, spring time thaws and other events, have caused release from the surface pits of large volumes of contaminated water which affect crops, trees, livestock and the environment in general. In addition, the construction of these pits are subject to numerous practical limitations, including the lining must be watertight, no sharp sticks or stones can protrude from the base of the pit to avoid punctures in the lining, and the pit has to be sized right. The lining at the upper rim must be securely fastened so that it doesn’t slide down into the pit when the water pulls on it from below. Essentially, what the DEC has required is that companies use a “closed system” to capture flow back water. This is a clear improvement over prior permitting practices and should serve the landowners of New York State very well.