Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Marcellus Wastewater Dumped Into Waterways

By Betsey Piette
Published Jan 17, 2011 10:08 PM

Natural gas industry giant Cabot Oil & Gas Co. is at it again. In January it was reported that the company had illegally discharged 1.8 million gallons of wastewater into the Neshaminy Creek, part of the Delaware River watershed. This watershed is a source of drinking water for more than 300,000 residents in 17 communities outside Philadelphia.

In December Cabot agreed to set up a $4.1 million escrow account for rural Pennsylvanians who suffered health problems in areas where the company earlier had carried out hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” operations.

In other areas of the U.S. toxic wastewater from fracking is usually disposed of by injecting it down deep well shafts. Pennsylvania, which has become the center of the gas rush, remains the only state that allows fracking companies to use waterways as the primary disposal site for huge volumes of fluids.

Contaminated with chemicals, wastewater from fracking operations was being trucked from gas well sites in the northeastern part of the state to a private industrial treatment facility in Hatfield Township, a Philadelphia suburb, where some solids were removed before the wastewater was discharged into the creek. The wastewater was polluted with strontium and barium, which can cause high blood pressure if ingested. Fracking wastewater also contains radium, a naturally occurring radioactive substance.

In late 2010 the Delaware River Basin Commission ordered the facility to cease accepting the fluids. This acceptance constituted a blatant violation of DRBC’s rules and regulations. No fines, however, were levied against Cabot or PSC Environmental Services, the company that discharged the wastewater into the sewer system.

The Delaware River Basin supplies water for 15 million people in four states. Regulations that should have kept fracking wastewater out of the watershed were circumvented for months.

An Associated Press examination of the Department of Environmental Protection’s first annual report of waste produced by drilling in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale found that statewide “at least 150 million barrels of the waste were sent to treatment plants that empty into rivers during the 12 months ending June 30, 2010 — enough to cover a square mile with more than 8 1/2 inches of brine. More than 50 million gallons, about one-fifth of the total waste fluid, was unaccounted for because of a ‘weakness’ in the state’s reporting system.” (Jan. 3)

People in impacted towns were repeatedly told that the watershed was free of gas waste, even though their water contained contaminants known as trihalomethanes. While not found in drilling wastewater, trihalomethanes are created when chlorine used to purify drinking water reacts with bromide, which is found in the wastewater that is several times saltier than sea water.

The Environmental Protection Agency says people who drink water with elevated levels of trihalomethanes for many years have increased risks of cancer as well as potential problems with their liver, kidney and central nervous system.

Water in a municipal authority water treatment plant in Beaver Falls, 27 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, began flunking tests for trihalomethanes regularly in 2009. “Abnormally high salt levels in the Monongahela River in 2008 corroded machinery at a steel mill and a power plant that were drawing water from the river. The DEP suspected that drilling wastewater was the cause and ordered upstream treatment plants to reduce their output.” (ProPublica, Jan. 5)

Protest against Toxic Tom

Gas Truth-PA, which is organizing a statewide protest in Harrisburg on Jan. 18 at the inauguration of incoming governor Tom Corbett, stated that Corbett is so pro-drilling “he is failing to protect the Delaware River watershed or any other watershed from drilling.”

Natural gas companies in Pennsylvania contributed more than a million dollars to Corbett’s campaign. Corbett promised to rescind a recent gubernatorial executive order against leasing 800,000 more acres of state forest for drilling. He also opposes a tax on gas and backs legislation allowing companies to drill even when landowners refuse to signs leases.

Shortly after his election, “Toxic” Tom reassured the gas industry that he will protect their interests by appointing Christine Toretti, owner of SW Jack Drilling, to his transitional team.

In a press release calling for the Jan. 18 rally, Gas Truth-PA wrote, “People with few resources are left on their own to sue giant corporations, and our beautiful natural treasures are being stolen. We need to make it clear: Pennsylvanians don’t want gas drilling. Arrogant corporations should not be running this show. We want clean water and air — and we want it now!”
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