Michigan — August 5, 2013 at 7:14 am

Oil company that sprayed toxic solvents on Benzie County roads punished with stern wag of a finger


Seriously, DEQ? Why do we even have these laws if you don’t enforce them?

Last month I wrote about Kalkaska-based Team Services being busted for spraying salt water contaminated with toxic industrial solvents at hundreds, even thousands of times the legal limit.

The brine sample contained 28,000 parts per billion of benzene, a known human carcinogen; 1,000,000 parts per billion of toluene, a toxic aromatic solvent; 130,000 parts per billion of ethylbenzene, a toxic solvent; and 750,000 parts per billion of mixed xylenes, another class of toxic solvents.

The limits on all of these for brining fluids are 1,000 parts per billion (pdf). So they were 28X over the limit on carcinogenic benzene, 1,000 times over the limit for toluene, 130 times over the limit for ethylbenzene and 750 times over the limit for xylenes.

Team Services, which operates out of Kalkaska, Michigan, is a national oil company that lists among its many services “brine spreading” and “oilfield brine disposal”.

After it was discovered by Brian and Karla Black that Team Services was spreading the contaminated brine on the country roads near their organic farm, they reported the situation to state and county officials. The Department of Environmental Quality has completed their investigation and found that, yes, indeed, Team Services violated the law by spraying toxic aromatic solvents onto the roadways in Benzie county. They are being punished by a stern wag of the finger:

A Kalkaska company that spread toxic solvents on some Benzie County roads that were a thousand times stronger than state limits learned its fate following a review by Michigan regulators:

Do a self-investigation, don’t do it again, and clean up the mess.

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality officials determined oil field service company Team Services LLC violated its permit and environmental protection laws when it spread oil field brine on Benzie County roads that exceeded state limits for Benzene, Toluene, and other toxins.

Oil field brine is a byproduct of oil and gas drilling and sometimes is used as a cheap dust control agent, but DEQ officials classified a tested load as “liquid industrial waste” in a July 26 violation notice.

You can read the DEQ’s letter HERE (pdf). Here is what they are “demanding” Team Services provide them with by the end of August:

  • A description of what occurred on June 4, 2013 including information on how the brine is stored, other tanks on their site, previous use of the truck used to spray the solvent-containing waste onto the roads, and other “relevant” information.
  • A description of future practices that will eliminate such incidents from occurring again in the future.
  • A work plan that details how they will evaluate the areas where they discharged the “liquid industrial waste”. The work plan should include information regarding the quantity of the waste discharged and how testing will show that there is no further hazard to groundwater or by direct contact with the brined roads due to the discharge.

Wow. That’s pretty stringent. They actually get to do the testing to ensure everything is fine and come up with their own plan to prevent it from happening again. As Brian Black says in the Traverse City Record-Eagle, that’s a pretty awesome gig they have going on there:

“You take an oil company that is making millions of dollars and they are dumping their wastes on the road and getting paid to do it,” Black said. “That’s a heck of a business plan.”

Black and his wife Karla have sent a letter (pdf) to the DEQ demanding that Team Services be fined and take steps to ensure their groundwater has not been compromised. They also point out that the violation doesn’t cover other areas for which there is evidence that Team Services applied solvent-laden brine and that Team Services permit to spread brine actually only covers Kalkaska County. In other words, they’re using a permit for one county to spread toxic solvent-contaminated brine in other areas.

[We ask that you issue] an additional violation for operating outside the geographical limitations imposed by Team Services, certificate of coverage GW1510181, which is limited to Kalkaska Township, Kalkaska County, Michigan. This restriction was confirmed with your department by telephone on July 19, 2013. […]

It is our understanding that violations of this nature are subject to the civil and criminal penalties contained in MCL 324.3112, 3114, 3115, and 3115(a). Upon your verification of the nature, scope, and extent of the violations that have occurred, we respectfully request that the Department exercise all legal remedies available at law, including but not necessarily limited to, requesting the Michigan Attorney General to commence a civil action seeking maximum fines, investigation and clean up, natural resource damages, and, in addition, the filing of a criminal complaint.

All of this should have DEQ all up in Team Services grill and yet they are letting them off the hook without a fine and letting them do their own testing and come up with their own work plan to solve the problem.

It’s outrageous.

By the way, this isn’t the only example of the DEQ’s stern finger wagging from last week. Canadian firm Encana spilled hundreds of gallons of fracking brines in Kalkaska County and DEQ’s response was, again, to send them a notice of violation but no fine.

You have to wonder why we even have these laws on the books when there is no punishment for breaking them.