Standards to protect PA waterways from drilling wastewater take major step forward

HARRISBURG, PA, May 17, 2010 -- The Pennsylvania Environmental Quality Board today approved first-of-its-kind regulations that will protect waterways from the effects of natural gas drilling wastewater...

• EQB approves new TDS regulations, strengthens erosion and sediment rules; Proposes new well construction standards

HARRISBURG, PA, May 17, 2010 -- The Pennsylvania Environmental Quality Board today approved first-of-its-kind regulations that will protect waterways from the effects of natural gas drilling wastewater, better enabling the state's Marcellus Shale reserves to be developed without sacrificing the health and quality of Pennsylvania's vital water resources.

Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger said the new regulations are an appropriate and necessary measure to ensure that drilling wastewater containing high concentrations of Total Dissolved Solids, or TDS, do 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. Without imposing limits on this pollution, treatment costs for this wastewater are passed along to downstream industries and municipal ratepayers," said Hanger. "All other industries in Pennsylvania are responsible for the waste they generate and the drilling industry should be no exception."

Next, the EQB-approved TDS rules will move onto the Environmental Resources and Energy committees in the state House and Senate, as well as to the Independent Regulatory Review Commission for a 30-day review period.

"These regulations were first proposed in August 2009 following discussions and meetings with stakeholders, including the Marcellus Shale Coalition, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, power generators, drinking water companies and environmental groups, and were subject to a 90-day public comment period and four public hearings held around the state," Hanger said. "This rule has been thoroughly vetted and scrutinized and has been amended in response to industry concerns. It is critical for DEP to move forward with them to protect Pennsylvania's waters from high TDS pollution."

Under the new regulations, wastewater discharges from new and expanded facilities must meet a concentration threshold of 2,000 milligrams per liter and 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 and because drillers have options other than returning water to rivers and streams such as reusing and recycling it, or injecting it deep into caverns situated below ground water supplies when approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Several states -- including Texas, Oklahoma, New York, Iowa, Virginia, Arkansas and Tennessee -- prohibit returning any drilling wastewater to streams.

Drinking water treatment facilities and industrial water users are not equipped to process water with high levels of chlorides and sulfates, so the new rules place limits on the amount of total dissolved solids that can be discharged into surface waters.

TDS levels have exceeded the EPA's secondary drinking water standards of 500 mg/l several times over the past two years in western Pennsylvania's Monongahela River. The elevated levels led to complaints from drinking water customers about foul-smelling water and damage to laundry and dishes. Industrial users such as USX have complained of equipment damage caused by polluted river water.

High TDS levels also led to a toxic algae bloom that killed all fish and aquatic life in a 30-mile section of Dunkard Creek in Greene County in 2009.

In addition, EQB members approved proposed 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.

The proposed regulations must now be reviewed by the Attorney General's office and will then be published in the PA Bulletin for public comment.

The board also enhanced existing rules governing erosion, sediment control and stormwater to protect streams from the effects of new development, reduce localized flooding during heavy storms, and cut sediment and nutrient pollution. The new rules, which also include an updated permit fee structure, bring Pennsylvania into compliance with federal requirements for:

Erosion and sedimentation controls and post-construction stormwater runoff;

• Creating mandatory requirements for establishing and protecting existing streamside and riverside buffers in high quality and exceptional value watersheds; and
• Enhancing agricultural stormwater management provisions beyond plowing and tilling to include animal-heavy use areas.

As with the TDS regulations, the erosion and sediment rules will now go on to the General Assembly and to the IRRC for a 30-day review period.

For more information, visit www.depweb.state.pa.us, and select "Public Participation."

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