Friday, May 13, 2011

EPA Needs Wastewater Disposal Information from Gas Drillers

The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has asked six natural gas drillers operating in Pennsylvania (Atlas Resources, Talisman Energy, Range Resources, Cabot Gas and Oil, SWEPI, and Chesapeake Energy) to disclose how and where they will dispose of or recycle their wastewater once they stop using public treatment plants. The six plants are responsible for more than 50% of the drilling in the state.

In April the state’s Department of Environmental Protection asked drillers to end voluntarily their use of municipal treatment plants by May 19th because they are not equipped to remove all the contaminants found in frack water. John Capacasa, director of the Water Protection Division of the EPA in Region III, says the EPA is working closely with the DEP to ensure that the wastewater will be handled responsibly. The information requests are required by law, according to Capacasa, under the Clean Water Act and two other statutes.

While municipal plants are usually not equipped to treat drilling wastewater and simply dilute it a little bit before releasing it into waterways, Capacasa says some private facilities can provide a high level of environmental protection. The problem is there are few such plants in the state.

There is currently a moratorium on approval of permits for gas drilling in the Delaware River Basin in Eastern Pennsylvania, says Capacasa, while the Delaware River Basin Commission proposes new regulations based on the very sensitive ecosystem. He says the the Delaware River Basin Commission regulates the quantity of water withdrawal by industry, but he is unaware of any such regulations in Western Pennsylvania.

Capacasa says the EPA yesterday told Tunnelton Liquids Company, a private treatment company, to stop injecting wastewater into an abandoned mine in Saltsburg, Indiana County, because they had no permit and the mine is too shallow to protect drinking water sources.

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