Monday, May 17, 2010

PA Environmental Quality Board Adopts tough Regulations to Protect Water from Drilling Waste

Today, the PA Environ-mental Quality Board (EQB) approved regulations that will protect waterways from the effects of natural gas drilling wastewater. Their goal is to enable companies to develop Marcellus Shale reserves without sacrificing the health and quality of Pennsylvania’s vital water resources.

Dept. of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger told the press that the new regulations are an appropriate and necessary measure to ensure that drilling wastewater containing high concentrations of Total Dissolved Solids, or TDS, does not pollute drinking water supplies, damage industrial equipment, or endanger delicate aquatic life.

"Drilling wastewater contains TDS levels that are thousands of times more harmful to aquatic life than discharges from other industries," Hanger said. "Without imposing limits on this pollution, treatment costs for this wastewater are passed downstream." Hanger pointed out that other industries in PA are responsible for the waste they generate. "The drilling industry should be no exception," he said

The new regulations for TDS would require wastewater discharges from new and expanded facilities to meet a concentration threshold of 2,000 milligrams per liter; wastewater discharges from drilling operations cannot exceed 500 mg/l. The lower standard was set for the drilling industry because drilling wastewater is so heavily polluted. Also, drillers have options other than returning water to rivers and streams, such as reusing and recycling wastefluids or injecting them deep into caverns or EPA-approved underground injection wells. 

New York and several other states, among them Texas, OklahomaVirginia, Arkansas and Tennessee, prohibit returning any drilling wastewater to streams. That's because drinking water treatment facilities and industrial water users are not equipped to process water with high levels of chlorides and sulfates.

The new PA ruled place limits on the amount of total dissolved solids that can be discharged into surface waters. In the past two years,  TDS levels have exceeded the EPA’s secondary drinking water standards of 500 mg/l in western Pennsylvania’s Monongahela River. The elevated levels led to complaints about foul-smelling water and damage to laundry and dishes. Industrial users complained of equipment damage caused by polluted river water.

In addition, high TDS levels contributed to a toxic algae bloom that killed all fish and aquatic life in a 30-mile section of Dunkard Creek in Greene County last year.

EQB members also approved  rules that will strengthen Pennsylvania’s well construction standards and define a drilling company’s responsibility for responding to gas migration issues, such as when gas escapes a well or rock formation and seeps into homes or water wells. Once finalized, the new rules will require well operators to conduct quarterly inspections of all wells and report the results to DEP. Read more here.

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