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PA. Allows Dumping Of Tainted Waters From Gas Boom

January 10, 2011

PA is the only State currently allowing “treated” water from gas drilling operations to be dumped into our waterways.  David Caruso of the Associated Press wrote a great article about this recently and it’s worth sharing and absorbing.  Our drinking water is at risk from this waste water that contains fracking fluids, heavy metals and other things like methane, barium, and radium released during the underground process of gas drilling.  It seems as though our State and our treatment plants were caught off guard and are unready for all of this salty, chemically tainted wastewater.  Our treatment plants are scrambling to try and process all of this waste water from drilling and total dissolved solids (salts and minerals), and trihalomethanes are a reason for concern.

Statewide, “At least 3.6 million barrels of the waste were sent to treatment plants that empty into rivers during the 12 months ending June 30, according to state records. That is enough to cover a square mile with more than 8½ inches of brine.”  And now, it looks as if sewage waste water from some of these treatment plants will be making it’s way back to the industry.  How much is not sent back for treatment or recycled?  How much is getting dumped into our PA streams and lakes?

Or even on the side of the road as this video shows?    Check out this home video on posted Youtube of  illegal disposal of fracking waste.  A vigilant citizen in Washington County (western PA, chock full of fracking activity)  sees a truck start to empty liquid out of its tank beside a road.   As he approaches with his video camera rolling, the truck quickly leaves.  Concluding that the truck would have emptied its whole tank if he hadn’t begun recording the incident, the citizen takes a sample.  Tests show the fluid “wasn’t fresh water,” though we don’t know more right now.

Living in Philadelphia, it’s important to know that our watershed is in danger even here.  “In 2009 and part of 2010, energy company Cabot Oil & Gas trucked more than 44,000 barrels of well wastewater to a treatment facility in Hatfield Township, a Philadelphia suburb.  Those liquids were then discharged through the town sewage plant into the Neshaminy Creek, which winds through Bucks and Montgomery counties on its way to the Delaware River.”  17 Municipalities and more than 300,000 residents rely on this creek to provide their drinking water and also use it for recreation.

“Regulations that should have kept drilling wastewater out of the important Delaware River Basin, the water supply for 15 million people in four states, were circumvented for many months.  People in those communities had been told repeatedly that the watershed was free of gas waste.”  Seems regulations and oversight are being tightened and created to address this issue, but they still “allowed any existing operations to continue discharging water into rivers.”  That is roughly still 6 million barrels!  Fines and regulations can be levied, but can we be assured our water will be cleaned and be safe to drink after this pollution?
Nicholas Kusnetz writing for ProPublica also recently covered this story in a piece titled “Pennsylvania’s Drilling Wastewater Released to Streams, Some Unaccounted For“.  According to Kusnetz “most of the hundreds of millions of gallons of briny wastewater they produced was eventually dumped into the state’s rivers. Much of the rest is unaccounted for.” 

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