Groups say facilities wrongly discharging drilling wastewater

Groups say facilities wrongly discharging drilling wastewater.

Groups say facilities wrongly discharging drilling wastewater

Organizations plan to file a lawsuit
Friday, March 11, 2011

Two municipal sewage treatment facilities that together discharge 150,000 gallons a day of Marcellus Shale wastewater into the Monongahela River watershed don’t have federal permits for such pollution discharges and should, according to two environmental organizations that say they will sue the facilities in federal court.

Clean Water Action and Three Rivers Waterkeeper on Thursday filed a “notice of intent to sue” against sewage treatment operations in McKeesport and Franklin, Greene County, claiming the facilities are in violation of the federal Clean Water Act.

The notice marks the first legal action challenging the widespread practice of discharging Marcellus wastewater through municipal treatment facilities that do not have permits to treat such waste.

The groups were critical of both the state Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for failing to enforce existing discharge permits, which limit the facilities to treating and discharging sewage waste water. At least 11 sewage treatment facilities in the state accept and discharge Marcellus wastewater.


“We cannot wait any longer to rely on the state and the EPA to act,” said Myron Arnowitt, state director of Clean Water Action. “These sewage plants have been illegally discharging gas drilling wastewater into our rivers since 2008 without a permit as required by the Clean Water Act.”

Mr. Arnowitt said the treatment facilities should immediately stop accepting the gas drilling wastewater or seek permission to amend their permits so they can legally do so.

The 18-page legal notice sent to the treatment plant and municipal officials in McKeesport and Franklin is a requirement of many federal environmental laws that include citizen suit provisions. It’s the first step toward filing a lawsuit and provides 60 days to negotiate a settlement before a lawsuit can be filed.

In response to water quality concerns, the DEP in 2008 limited the Municipal Authority for the City of McKeesport’s treatment and discharge of Marcellus Shale drilling wastewater to 1 percent of its total discharge, or an average of 102,000 gallons a day going into the Monongahela River. This year the authority’s Marcellus discharge is limited to 99,700 gallons a day, based on its average daily discharge in 2010.

The Franklin Township Sewer Authority in Greene County discharges an average of 50,000 gallons a day of Marcellus drilling wastewater into the South Fork of Ten Mile Creek, a tributary of the Monongahela River. That’s equal to 5 percent of the authority’s daily discharge, and allowed under a negotiated consent agreement with the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Those state-imposed treatment and discharge limits don’t address the main claim of the environmental groups: that their existing discharge permits haven’t been changed to allow them to accept the drilling wastewater and that the discharges are having a detrimental effect on water quality in the rivers.

About 500,000 people get their drinking water from the Mon.

“Their failure to follow proper procedures for authorization to discharge oil and as wastewater renders their discharge illegal,” the notice states. “Their failure to follow the requirements pertaining to the pretreatment program also leaves them in violation of the Clean Water Act.”

Joe Ross, executive director of the McKeesport authority, and George Scott, general manager of the Franklin facility, said Thursday afternoon they hadn’t seen the notice filing or been contacted by the environmental groups, so declined to comment.

Don Hopey: or 412-263-1983.
First published on March 11, 2011 at 12:00 am

Pennsylvania allows dumping of tainted waters from hydrofracking into drinking water streams |

Pennsylvania allows dumping of tainted waters from hydrofracking into drinking water streams | Jan. 4, 2011

Pennsylvania alone allows waterways to serve as primary disposal sites for fracking waste

By David B. Caruso
The Associated Press
Monday, January 3, 2011

The natural gas boom gripping parts of the U.S. has a nasty byproduct: wastewater so salty, and so polluted with metals like barium and strontium, most states require drillers to get rid of the stuff by injecting it down shafts thousands of feet deep.
Not in Pennsylvania, one of the states at the center of the gas rush.

There, the liquid that gushes from gas wells is only partially treated for substances that could be environmentally harmful, then dumped into rivers and streams from which communities get their drinking water.

In the two years since the frenzy of activity began in the vast underground rock formation known as the Marcellus Shale, Pennsylvania has been the only state allowing waterways to serve as the primary disposal place for the huge amounts of wastewater produced by a drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

State regulators, initially caught flat-footed, tightened the rules this year for any new water treatment plants, but allowed any existing operations to continue discharging water into rivers.

At least 3.6 million barrels of the waste were sent to treatment plants that empty into rivers during the 12 months ending June 30, according to state records. That is enough to cover a square mile with more than 81/2 inches of brine.

Researchers are still trying to figure out whether Pennsylvania’s river discharges, at their current levels, are dangerous to humans or wildlife. Several studies are under way, some under the auspices of the Environmental Protection Agency.

State officials, energy companies and the operators of treatment plants insist that with the right safeguards in place, the practice poses little or no risk to the environment or to the hundreds of thousands of people, especially in Western Pennsylvania, who rely on those rivers for drinking water.

But an Associated Press review found that Pennsylvania’s efforts to minimize, control and track wastewater discharges have sometimes failed.

For example:

• Of the roughly 6 million barrels of well liquids produced in a 12-month period examined by The AP, the state couldn’t account for the disposal method for 1.28 million barrels, about a fifth of the total, due to a weakness in its reporting system and incomplete filings by some energy companies.

• Some public water utilities that sit downstream from big gas wastewater treatment plants have struggled to stay under the federal maximum for contaminants known as trihalomethanes, which can cause cancer if swallowed over a long period.

• Regulations that should have kept drilling wastewater out of the important Delaware River Basin, the water supply for 15 million people in four states, were circumvented for many months.

In 2009 and part of 2010, energy company Cabot Oil & Gas trucked more than 44,000 barrels of well wastewater to a treatment facility in Hatfield Township, a Philadelphia suburb. Those liquids were then discharged through the town sewage plant into the Neshaminy Creek, which winds through Bucks and Montgomery counties on its way to the Delaware River.

Regulators put a stop to the practice in June, but the more than 300,000 residents of the 17 municipalities that get water from the creek or use it for recreation were never informed that numerous public pronouncements that the watershed was free of gas waste had been wrong.

“This is an outrage,” said Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, an environmental group. “This is indicative of the lack of adequate oversight.”

The situation in Pennsylvania is also being watched carefully by regulators in other states, some of which have begun allowing some river discharges. New York also sits over the Marcellus Shale, but Gov. David Paterson has slapped a moratorium on high-volume fracking while environmental regulations are drafted. Read more of this post