EPA asks state to improve gas well water checks
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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has asked Pennsylvania to do a better job sampling, monitoring and regulating Marcellus Shale wastewater discharges near public drinking water sources.
The EPA also has reminded the state Department of Environmental Protection that any new methods for disposing of drilling wastewater must comply with federal rules.
The federal agency last week directed six of the major Marcellus Shale drilling companies in Pennsylvania to disclose, by May 25, how and where they will dispose of or recycle wastewater now that they can no longer use municipal sewage treatment facilities.
Range Resources, Atlas Resources LLC, Talisman Energy USA, Cabot Gas and Oil CVorp.. SWEPI LP and Chesapeake Energy Corp. account for more than half of the Marcellus gas drilling in the state.
The EPA said it is getting involved in regulatory and enforcement actions usually overseen by the DEP because it wants to ensure that Marcellus Shale gas development and production are done in ways to protect public health and the environment.
"We want to make sure that the drillers are handling their wastewater in an environmentally responsible manner," said Shawn Garvin, EPA mid-Atlantic regional administrator. "EPA is continuing to work with PADEP officials who are on the front lines of permitting and regulating natural gas drilling activities in Pennsylvania."
The EPA actions follow a request by the DEP asking drilling companies to voluntarily stop disposal of drilling and fracking wastewater at sewage and wastewater treatment plants by Thursday.
In a May 12 letter to DEP Secretary Michael Krancer, Mr. Garvin asked that the DEP:
• Provide notification when facilities are accepting hydraulic fracturing wastewater so the EPA can determine if a pretreatment or additional permits are needed.
• Use stricter public drinking water standards to assess water quality as it is discharged from treatment facilities.
• Enact legally enforceable wastewater disposal regulations instead of relying on voluntary actions by companies not to dispose of wastewater at municipal sewage treatment facilities.
• Do a better job sampling water from treatment facilities accepting Marcellus wastewater when public drinking water intake facilities are downstream.
• Be aware that injection of drilling wastewater into abandoned underground mines requires a federal underground injection control permit.
The EPA also announced that it has issued a proposed order to the Tunnelton Liquids Co. to stop the underground injection of Marcellus wastewater and fracking fluids into an abandoned mine in Saltsburg, Indiana County.
The company never had a federal underground injection control permit, and the EPA issued the order because of alleged violations to the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.
Tunnelton did not return phone calls requesting comment. The DEP did not respond to requests for comment about the letter or whether it intends to comply with the EPA requests.
First Published May 16, 2011 12:00 am