Is Wasteater Discharge into the Susquehanna River Possible?

Opposition expressed to wastewater treatment facility

By DAVID THOMPSON dthompson@sungazette.com

Nearly all those who testified Wednesday during a public hearing regarding a proposed gas drilling wastewater treatment facility spoke in opposition.

The hearing, held at the northcentral regional office of the state Department of Environmental Protection, was held to gather public testimony regarding an application by TerrAqua Resource Management of Williamsport for a permit to discharge treated gas drilling wastewater into the West Branch of the Susquehanna River.

The company, a subsidiary of Larson Design Group, wants to treat and discharge up to 400,000 gallons per day of gas drilling wastewater into the river.

However, many in attendance had concerns regarding the impact the treated water will have on the river, including its ecosystem and the people who use it as a source of drinking water.

Others expressed concerns about how gas exploration will impact the entire state.

Fairfield Township resident Anne Harris Katz, a scientist, asked how the DEP will make sure treated water does not contains harmful toxins when it is discharged into the river.

Katz questioned the department’s ability to monitor those toxins and determine their impacts once they enter the watershed.

She also questioned the agency’s role in the Marcellus Shale Wastewater Partnership, which she said was comprised of the DEP and industry organization the Marcellus Shale Committee. Katz said the partnership should contain more stakeholders, such as local residents, scientists, and environmental and planning organizations.

“However, it still remains questionable in my mind that a regulatory agency should be part of any partnership involving a group whose activities it regulates,” she said.

Don Williams of Harleysville said allowing the gas industry to gain a foothold in the state would set back environmental improvement efforts decades. Williams compared “the Marcellus Shale frenzy” to making a pact with the devil.

“We are once again striking a Faustian bargain at the expense of our natural resources, degrading the quality of our land and our waters in exchange for the false promises of jobs and the fleeting economic prosperity for a limited few,” he said.

“I am fully opposed to the further degradation of the Susquehanna River … and I am respectfully requesting this application be denied,” Williams said.

Williams added that until the gas industry provides full disclosure of all chemicals used in the hydrofracturing process, action on all gas drilling wastewater treatment plant applications be suspended.

The draft permit for the proposed facility allows the discharge into the river of between 54,000 and 522,000 pounds of total dissolved solids per day. That equates into 15.7 million pounds of solids being discharged into the river every month, he said.

If additional plants are built, “what will our watershed … look like next year, or five years from now?” he asked.

Several people who testified, including Jon Bogle and Mark Szybist of the Responsible Drilling Alliance, said the company’s application should be resubmitted.

Szybist said the application no longer is valid because the company plans to use a different treatment process than originally was stated in the application.

A new application should be submitted and the public should be given time to review it and comment on it, he said.

Nathan Sooy of Clean Water Action agreed that a new application should be submitted because of the new technology the company is proposing.

Sooy argued that because of uncertainties in the toxicity of the wastewater the facility will receive, the DEP should institute a stringent testing tool called Whole Effluent Toxicity Testing, or WETT.

Sooy also expressed concern that the method the company plans to use to treat the water through evaporation results in significant air pollution and hazardous waste disposal issues.

Former county planning department chief Jerry S. Walls said properly designed and well-run treatment plants are essential if the region is to realize the full economic impact of development of natural gas resources in the Marcellus Shale.

“We need these treatment facilities, but we also must respect and use the best science available to avoid yet another cycle of natural resource extraction followed by decades of publicly funded pollution cleanup,” he said.

Walls added that he had concerns about the cumulative impact of 10 or more treatment facilities on the west branch of the river and the Chesapeake Bay.

He suggested that in addition to civil and sanitary engineers, scientists, such as health physicists, nuclear scientists and others, are needed to design methods that adequately can treat the substances contained in gas drilling flow back fluids.

Walls also expressed concern over the way in which naturally occurring radioactive material found in flow back water will be disposed of.

Local businesswoman Barbara Jarmoska said that in 30 years of working in the natural health field, she has seen increased levels of breast cancer in women and autism in children. Jarmoska said she was concerned about the agency’s ability to test for all potential toxins that could be present in the water.

Pointing to the agency’s inability or unwillingness to post permit applications and other public records online, John Kesich suggested the DEP may be involved in a conspiracy to prevent the public from receiving adequate information about gas drilling-related permits.

Ralph Kisberg, also of the Responsible Drilling Alliance, said the gas drilling boom in the region “has gone way too fast.”

Kisberg said a slower approach is needed to allow technology to catch up with the industry’s need to treat wastewater.

Caleb Banas said that to maintain the integrity of the river’s ecosystem, “it is very important that nothing other than water goes into the system.”

Salt, the main pollutant of treated gas drilling water, should not be allowed in the river, he said.

Alliance member Robbie Cross said the DEP’s philosophy on the gas industry runs counter to the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resource’s definition of the Pennsylvania Wilds.

The DEP will accept written testimony through the business day on Oct. 7, said Robert Hawley of the DEP.

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