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Groups Announce Legal Action to Stop Sewage Plants from Dumping Gas Drilling Wastewater in PA Rivers

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Groups Announce Legal Action to Stop Sewage Plants from
Dumping Gas Drilling Wastewater in Pennsylvania Rivers

— McKeesport and Franklin Twp. plants targeted —

(Pittsburgh) – Clean Water Action and Three Rivers Waterkeeper served legal noticestoday on two sewer authorities that have been discharging Marcellus Shale gas drillingwastewater into the Monongahela River watershed south of Pittsburgh. The noticesdetail violations of the federal Clean Water Act by the facilities, primarily for dischargingwastewater without a permit. Both EPA and the Pennsylvania DEP were notified as wellof the legal action. This is the first time a legal action has been filed to stop the currentdischarge of Marcellus drilling wastewater.

The two sewer authorities targeted are the Municipal Authority of the City of McKeesport inAllegheny County and the Franklin Township Sewer Authority, located in Greene County.McKeesport discharges up to 100,000 gallons per day of Marcellus drilling wastewater intothe Monongahela River. Franklin Twp. discharges up to 50,000 gallons per day into TenMile Creek, a tributary of the Monongahela River. The Monongahela supplies drinkingwater for nearly a half million people, including a portion of the City of Pittsburgh.

“We cannot wait any longer to rely on the state and EPA to act,” stated Myron Arnowitt,PA State Director for Clean Water Action. “These sewage plants have been illegallydischarging gas drilling wastewater into our rivers since 2008 without a permit as requiredby the Clean Water Act. They should immediately stop accepting gas drilling wastewaterand if they want to accept it, they should apply for a permit to do so,” Arnowitt stated.

“Our rivers have made a miraculous recovery over the past few decades, thanks – in largepart – to laws that protect the public’s right to clean rivers and safe drinking water. Theselaws are public health laws and their strict enforcement has a direct, positive effect on thehealth of our rivers, our communities, and our citizens,” stated Ned Mulcahy, ExecutiveDirector for Three Rivers Waterkeeper. “We demand that these facilities stop acceptingtruck after truck of this wastewater and that the DEP and EPA take all necessary actionsto ensure that our rivers, our drinking water, and our communities are protected from thehealth hazards posed by improper treatment and illegal discharges,” Mulcahy stated.

Pennsylvania DEP has previously issued consent orders with both facilities that purportto allow the sewage plants to accept and discharge Marcellus wastewater. Arnowittstated, “DEP’s consent orders are private deals that are negotiated without public input.

The public is not notified and there are no public hearings as there would be if they appliedfor a Clean Water Act permit to discharge appropriately treated Marcellus wastewater. Ifthis wastewater is as safe as the gas industry says it is, lets have a public process so wecan see what the impact really is,” stated Arnowitt.

Water samples recently taken by University of Pittsburgh researchers downstream ofarea wastewater plants have shown elevated levels of numerous contaminants found inMarcellus wastewater including: total dissolved solids, chlorides, bromides, barium, andstrontium.

Although DEP had previously issued in 2010 strict wastewater treatment standards formost oil and gas wastewater sources, the new rule grandfathered all existing plants thatare currently discharging Marcellus wastewater. No plants in Pennsylvania that arecurrently discharging Marcellus wastewater are capable of removing contaminants to thelevel required by the 2010 wastewater rule.

EPA Region III Administrator Shawn Garvin sent a letter this week to Acting DEPSecretary Krancer concerning Marcellus wastewater discharge permits. The letter readin part, “These permits do not now include critical provisions necessary for effectiveprocessing and treatment of wastewaters from drilling operations.”

The legal action that is being filed today is the first step in what is referred to as a citizensuit under the Clean Water Act. When government agencies fail to address violations ofthe Clean Water Act this federal law allows any citizen to sue for enforcement of the law.The filing today is the legally required “Notice of Intent” informing all parties of the Clean Water Act violations at issue.

The legal filing from Clean Water Action and Three Rivers Waterkeeper can bedownloaded here.

Clean Water Action has more than 120,000 members statewide in Pennsylvania and isthe nation’s largest grassroots group focused on water, energy and environmental health.Clean Water Action’s 1 million members, participate in Clean Water Action’s programs forclean, safe and affordable water, prevention of health-threatening pollution, and creation ofenvironmentally-safe jobs and businesses. Clean Water Action’s nonpartisan campaignsempower people to make democracy work.

The mission of Three Rivers Waterkeeper is to ensure that communities throughoutSouthwestern Pennsylvania have safe water to drink, clean rivers to enjoy, and themeans necessary to defend their right to both. To accomplish this mission, Three RiversWaterkeeper will engage in education and outreach, work with communities and theirleaders, partner with government actors and NGOs, patrol the rivers, monitor water quality,and hold polluters accountable under the law.

CONTACT:
Myron Arnowitt, Clean Water Action, 412-592-1283
Ned Mulcahy, Three Rivers Waterkeeper, 412-589-4720
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Two Tales of Radioactivity

There’s a disagreement brewing about whether or not there are radioactive materials in the Marcellus Shale wastewater. On February 26, 2011, Ian Urbina’s New York Times article reported:

Of more than 179 wells producing wastewater with high levels of radiation, at least 116 reported levels of radium or other radioactive materials 100 times as high as the levels set by federal drinking-water standards. At least 15 wells produced wastewater carrying more than 1,000 times the amount of radioactive elements considered acceptable.



Gross Alpha Particles. This map is based on the Pennsylvania wells which were reported to have high levels of radiation by the New York Times on February 26, 2011.  Please click the “i” icon and then one of the wells above for more information.  Please click the gray compass rose and double carat (^) to hide those menus.

On March 7, 2011, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued a statement that would appear to contradict the New York Times data.  According to Acting DEP Secretary Michael Krancer, the situation is as follows:

We deal in facts based on sound science. Here are the facts: all samples were at or below background levels of radioactivity; and all samples showed levels below the federal drinking water standard for Radium 226 and 228.

Can Both Claims Be True?

Of the apparent discrepancy, the Marcellus Drilling News had this blunt proclamation:

It seems that The New York Times’ contention that Pennsylvania is poisoning waterways with radioactivity from Marcellus Shale wastewater was fiction and not science, as is now proven by test results from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

But sound-byte media wars aside, there isn’t necessarily any discrepancy at all. As is usually the case, the devil is in the details.

First of all, it is important to understand that the two organizations are referencing entirely different datasets. More to the point, while the New York Times data is about the produced water itself, the DEP report tested river water. What’s more, in a follow-up article on March 7th, Mr. Urbina wrote:

The Times found that samples taken by the state in the Monongahela River — a source of drinking water for parts of Pittsburgh — came from a point upstream from the two sewage treatment plants on that river. The state has said those plants are still accepting significant quantities of drilling waste.

Because that sampling site is upstream, the discharges from those two plants are not captured by the state’s monitoring plans.

With this perspective, the Marcellus Drilling News’ harsh words come across as misguided. While the DEP statement seems to have been carefully worded to give the illusion of countering the claims raised by Mr. Urbina’s article, in fact, it does no such thing.

CHEC’s Perspective

In Mr. Urbina’s March 7th article, Center for Healthy Environments and Communities (CHEC)(1) Director Conrad Volz, DrPH, MPH said:

As long as we are going to allow oil and gas wastewater to enter these streams, there needs to be monitoring weekly at least for a whole host of contaminants, including radium, barium, strontium.

According to Mr. Urbina’s March 7th Times article, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) seems to agree with this cautionary approach, requiring tests for radioactivity at water intake plants, as well as a call to check for compliance at the facilities that are handling the wastewater.

This seems like a prudent approach. If the DEP has legitimate issues with the February 26th New York Times data, it was not effectively countered by their March 7th statement. The best way to settle this dispute is through targeted data collection, which in this case means setting up an effective water quality testing strategy.

And isn’t that the sort of work that the Department of Environmental Protection and the Environmental Protection Agency should be doing anyway?

  1. CHEC manages the content for FracTracker, including this site, https://www.fractracker.org, and http://data.fractracker.org/

How is PA handling shale gas wastewater?

 

Jim Riggio, plant manager for the Beaver Falls Municipal
Authority, shows a sample of solid materials removed from
the Beaver River during treatment Dec. 15 at his plant.

On January 3rd, Associated Press writer, David Caruso, criticized the efforts underway in Pennsylvania to protect surface waters from shale gas drilling wastewater – especially because in most other states the primary means of disposal is deep well injection.

On January 4th, both the Marcellus Shale Coalition (the industry’s PR group) and DEP Secretary John Hanger defended the Commonwealth’s actions and current regulations.

What do you think?

Do you want to know where shale gas wastewater is permitted to be disposed of into surface waters near you? Below is a snapshot that I made in August 2010 using FracTracker’s DataTool of the facilities within PA that are permitted to receive shale gas drilling wastewater:


To learn more about a particular site, click on the inspect button in the gray toolbar – the “i” – and then click on a red diamond. A white box will pop up. Within that box, click on “view” to see who operates these facilities and how much wastewater per day they are permitted to receive. (“MGD” stands for Million Gallons Per Day. “GPD” means Gallons Per Day.)

And finally, here are two blog posts written by CHEC staff about the challenges facing our surface waters – and potentially our health – as a result of both fresh water withdrawals and wasterwater disposal: