The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to settle water pollution violations at three treatment plants in Indiana and Venango counties that discharged wastewater from Marcellus Shale gas drilling into the Allegheny River watershed.
The Allegheny is the water source for a dozen public water suppliers including the city of Pittsburgh.
The EPA assessed a total of $83,000 in penalties against the wastewater treatment plants, owned by Hart Resources Technology Inc. and Pennsylvania Brine Treatment Inc., which recently merged into a new company, Fluid Recovery Services LLC of Canonsburg.
According to an EPA news release issued Wednesday, the new company must also spend as much as $30 million to upgrade its three treatment facilities to comply with more stringent wastewater discharge standards in new discharge permits that will be issued by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The new permits will limit treatment plant discharges of total dissolved solids to 500 milligrams per liter, and until they are issued, the facilities cannot accept "flowback" wastewater from Marcellus Shale gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing operations, the EPA said.
But Myron Arnowitt, Pennsylvania director for Clean Water Action, said the water treatment plants continue to discharge about 500,000 gallons of oil and gas wastewater a day, and the discharges contain multiple toxins and more than 7 million pounds of salt every month -- a level that is not significantly lower than the discharges that caused the water quality violations.
"The companies say they're only accepting wastewater from conventional well drilling operations, but we haven't seen any confirmation of that from anyone, including the EPA," Mr. Arnowitt said. "It's still extremely salty, and regardless of where it's coming from, it's having a negative impact on water quality."
A spokeswoman for Fluid Recovery Services did not return phone calls requesting comment. In the settlement documents, Hart and Pennsylvania Brine Treatment neither admitted nor denied responsibility for the violations.
The illegal wastewater discharges addressed by the EPA consent order occurred between February 2007 and August 2011, prior to September 2011, when the EPA issued an order to each treatment facility then accepting shale gas wastewater and the DEP issued a request to oil and gas drillers not to truck wastewater to such facilities.
Pennsylvania Brine Treatment's Franklin facility in Venango County discharges directly into the Allegheny River, and the company's Josephine treatment plant in Indiana County discharges into Blacklick Creek, a tributary of the Conemaugh River, which is a tributary of the Allegheny.
Hart's Creekside treatment plant in Indiana County discharges into McKee Run, a tributary of Crooked Creek, which flows into the Allegheny.
The EPA's settlement is open to public review and comment for 40 days. It can be found at: www.epa.gov/reg3wapd/public_notices.htm#hartpabrine.
Don Hopey: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1983. First Published May 23, 2013 12:45 AM