A Montgomery County waste disposal company called Clean Earth is proposing to haul in 400,000 tons of gas industry waste– specifically treated drill cuttings. If its plans are approved by state regulators, the company would relocate its Williamsport-based processing facility to the airport grounds. It would pay to lease the land, then use the cuttings to extend the runway by 600 feet, and eventually turn over the processing building to the airport for use as a hanger.
Musser thinks this will help the airport and, in turn, the local economy.
“To bring growth–an airport is a vital step towards that,” he says.
The plan has been met with major push back here in Tioga County—one of the most drilled-on places in the state.
That’s because the airport sits high atop one of the region’s most beautiful natural assets, and a major tourist destination: the Pine Creek Gorge. It’s often called the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. The airport’s runway is next to a steep embankment that’s a half-mile from a tributary to the gorge.
And that embankment is exactly where Clean Earth wants to put the drill cuttings.
Tioga County Commissioner Eric Coolige (R) says drillers have been “a godsend” to the area. But he and many other gas industry supporters (including state Senate Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, who represents the area) are not sold on this idea.
“My concern is this product has not yet been given a 100 percent OK,” says Coolige. “And until it does, I’m not going to be in favor of it.”
Ed Osgood is a member of the Pine Creek Gorge Headwaters Protection Group. He also thinks it would be a big mistake to put so much drilling waste next to the gorge.
“We have no long-term, peer-reviewed studies to indicate this material is safe,” says Osgood.
He’s worried the waste could run into the gorge when it rains.
“I think the name Clean Earth is ironic,” he says. “This is anything but clean earth.”
Research and development?
Thanks to an exemption in federal law, none of the waste generated by the oil and gas industry is considered hazardous. No matter what’s in it. Clean Earth declined multiple interview requests for this story but says in a statement it’s been handling the waste “with the highest integrity.” The company has already disposed of 172,000 tons of it in recent years thanks to a special permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).