Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Matt Pitzarella: Supports DEP action says we can treat the water without sending it to grandfathered treatment plants

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
10:58 p.m. EDT, April 19, 2011

_ Citing a concern about the safety of drinking water, state environmental officials have called on natural gas drillers working in the burgeoning Marcellus shale formation to stop taking wastewater to 15 treatment plants by May 19.

The action Tuesday by acting Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Krancer came the same day that the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry trade group, acknowledged for the first time that wastewater discharges into rivers and streams were partly responsible for higher levels of pollutants that had been found in western Pennsylvania waterways.

Drillers have been criticized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and by environmentalists for the practice, which the DEP had allowed at some facilities despite tighter water discharge standards that were passed in December.

In a statement, the DEP said the state had found elevated levels of bromide in surface water samples from rivers in western Pennsylvania, where the majority of gas drilling is taking place.

Bromide is a non-toxic salt compound that, when it reacts with disinfectants used by municipal treatment plants, turns into a substance known as "Total Trihalomethanes," or "THMs." Studies have shown a link between the ingestion of, and exposure to, THMs, and certain birth defects and cancer types.

"Now is the time to take action to end this practice," Krancer said in a statement.

In other gas-producing states, such as Texas, wastewater is pumped deep underground into so-called "injection wells," keeping it out of streams and rivers. But in Pennsylvania, some drilling wastewater is treated by sewer authorities and then discharged into rivers.

Erika Staaf, of the advocacy group PennEnvironment, said Tuesday that while the plants can dilute the wastewater, they are not equipped to fully treat it, resulting in partially treated wastewater being discharged into waterways from which communities draw their water supplies.

"That was our concern," she said. "You don't necessarily know the quantities of materials that could come from many different wells," said Staaf, who called Tuesday's action by the state "an incredibly positive step forward."

"While there are "several possible sources for bromide other than shale drilling wastewater," Krancer said the state believes that if drilling "operators would stop giving wastewater to facilities that continue to accept it … bromide concentrations would quickly and significantly decrease."

Matt Pitzarella, a spokesman for driller Range Resources, said the company supports the DEP's action.

"One of the criticisms of the Marcellus industry is that we aren't thinking long-term," he said. "This shows our concern."

Pitzarella added that the industry believes "these issues are manageable and we were going to rely on science to solve them. At this point, I think the science is clear that it's causing a problem and we can treat the water without sending it to grandfathered treatment plants.",0,4278373.story

Pa.: Marcellus wastewater shouldn't go to treatment plants
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
By Don Hopey and Sean D. Hamill, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Read more: of high levels of dissolved solids and bromide in rivers and streams used for public drinking water sources, the state Department of Environmental Protection has asked all Marcellus Shale operations to voluntarily stop disposal of drilling wastewater at 15 municipal sewage treatment plants.

The request -- specifically not a departmental "order" that carries legal weight -- asks drillers to halt a wastewater disposal practice that had been criticized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and environmental groups but that the DEP had allowed at the select facilities despite tighter water discharge standards passed in December.

The DEP requested, with Gov. Tom Corbett's approval, that drillers stop taking Marcellus Shale drilling wastewater to municipal "grandfathered" treatment facilities after May 19.

Those facilities are, the Clairton City Municipal Authority and McKeesport City Municipal Authority, both in Allegheny County; Johnstown Redevelopment Authority, Cambria County; Ridgway Borough, Elk County; Franklin Township Sewage Authority, Greene County; Tunnelton Liquids Co. and Hart Resource Technologies Inc., both in Indiana County; Brockway Area Sewage Authority, Punxsutawney Borough Municipal Authority and Reynoldsville Borough Authority, all in Jefferson County; New Castle City Sanitation Authority, Lawrence County; Sunbury Generation, Snyder County; Franklin Brine Treatment Corp., Venango County; Waste Treatment Corp., Warren County; and the Kiski Valley Water Pollution Control Authority, Westmoreland County.

"We believe we can achieve voluntary compliance," said Katy Gresh, a DEP spokeswoman. "At 30 days we will revisit this and see how many comply. We could then use our authority to take the next step with the treatment facilities or drilling industry or both."

At about the same time the DEP made its request Tuesday morning, the Marcellus Shale Coalition said for the first time that drilling wastewater discharges into rivers and streams were partly responsible for higher levels of certain pollutants that have been measured in public waterways in Western Pennsylvania.

"Research by Carnegie Mellon University and Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority experts suggests that the natural gas industry is a contributing factor to elevated levels of bromide in the Allegheny and Beaver Rivers," said Kathryn Klaber, president and executive director of the coalition of Marcellus Shale drilling industry companies. "We are committed to leading efforts, and working alongside DEP and other stakeholders, to address these issues quickly and straightforwardly, and support the appropriate action taken by DEP today."

The drilling wastewater contains high concentrations of dissolved solids, including bromides, a non-toxic salt compound that reacts with disinfectants used by municipal treatment plants to create brominated trihalomethanes, also known as THMs. Studies show a link between ingestion of and exposure to THMs and several types of cancer and birth defects.

"While the prior administration allowed certain facilities to continue to take this wastewater, conditions have changed since the implementation of the TDS regulations," DEP Secretary Michael Krancer said today. "We now have more definitive scientific data, improved technology and increased voluntary wastewater recycling by industry."

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