Lawsuit challenges McKeesport's treatment of shale wastewater

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Environmental groups have filed suit in federal court against the McKeesport Municipal Authority, alleging it is violating the U.S. Clean Water Act by accepting wastewater from Marcellus Shale drilling operations.

According to the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh by Clean Water Action and Three Rivers Waterkeeper, the authority cannot adequately treat the 80,000 to 100,000 gallons a day of drilling wastewater it has been discharging into the Monongahela River, which is the source of drinking water for half a million people in Western Pennsylvania.

The environmental groups said the lawsuit, which seeks an injunction to immediately stop municipal treatment plants and other industrial treatment plants from accepting Marcellus wastewater, is the first federal case in the state challenging the practice, which has been allowed by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The lawsuit also asks the court to require the McKeesport Municipal Authority to apply for an amendment to its discharge permit and get state approval before it accepts any drilling wastewater.

Myron Arnowitt, state director for Clean Water Action, said the DEP and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should issue orders to stop any treatment plant not equipped to meet the new treatment rules from accepting shale gas drilling wastewater, which contains high concentrations of dissolved solids, heavy metals and chlorides.

"The McKeesport facility is incapable of removing hazardous chemicals present in Marcellus Shale wastewater, yet it pours into the Monongahela just miles upstream from Penn-American and West View drinking water intakes," said Ned Mulcahy, executive director for Three Rivers Waterkeeper. "Sadly, the Pennsylvania DEP and the U.S. EPA have all refused to take action to stop this dangerous practice."

The DEP enacted stricter treatment rules for oil and gas drilling wastewater discharges from new facilities last year, but it allows existing treatment facilities to continue to accept the wastewater, even though it has asked them to voluntarily stop.

The groups said the Franklin Township Municipal Authority in Greene County, which was also named in a "notice of intent to sue" they filed in March, has formally resolved to not accept any oil and gas drilling wastewater.

But the McKeesport Municipal Authority, which began accepting and discharging drilling wastewater in 2008 but has not done so since mid-April, has not taken any formal action.

"I doubt if we will start again, but if we did, we have a grandfathered right to accept the wastewater, and the authority did not want to give that right up," said Joe Rost, authority executive director. "We want to keep that option open because things may change."

Mr. Rost said the wastewater was coming from Chesapeake Energy Corp. and CNX Gas Corp., a subsidiary of Consol Energy, but that waste stream has "dried up" because the companies are recycling their wastewater or shipping it to Ohio for disposal.


Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.


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