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Pennsylvania to Target Wastewater 'Slackers'

While the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) doesn't know if any companies are still delivering Marcellus Shale wastewater to treatment facilities in the state, it won't tolerate any "slackers," Secretary Michael Krancer told an audience in Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

"We're going to put a scarlet letter on your chest," Krancer said during Steel Business Briefing's Shale Plays Tubular Conference.

With stricter total dissolved solids (TDS) regulations in place since last year, most treatment facilities don't have the technical capability to keep accepting Marcellus wastewater, but 15 grandfathered facilities across the state kept taking the fluids (see Shale Daily, May 20; April 20). To close that loophole, the DEP recently gave all drilling operators in the state until May 19 to voluntarily stop delivering wastewater to those facilities.

The DEP is still verifying whether any companies are still making deliveries, Krancer said, but plans to ostracize any "outliers."

"We're going to make sure your investors know what you're doing. We're going to make sure your lenders know what you're doing," Krancer said. "We're going to make sure your prospective investors know what you're doing. We're going to make sure your prospective lenders know what you're doing. We're going to make sure your shareholders know what you're doing so that at the next shareholders meeting maybe something will come up. But we're also going to make sure the public knows what you're doing and your neighbors know what you're doing. And that's only the beginning."

Krancer defended the decision to make the request voluntary, saying it gave the industry a chance to show its "true colors." He noted that the member companies of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group, made a pledge within 28 hours of the announcement to meet the deadline.

"We could have done it another way. We could have issued orders. And we might still have to do that to some slackers and some outliers," Krancer said. But, he noted, by asking the industry to stop, "We got compliance in 28 hours instead of the 28 months it would have taken to litigate."

In his 30-minute speech, Krancer also took two universities to task for a recent studies critical of shale gas development.

Krancer dismissed a Cornell University study that aimed to show how the life cycle of shale development could ultimately produce more greenhouse gas emissions than coal, saying, "I'm not sure you could find anybody these days that's a defender of the Cornell study. (see Shale Daily, April 13).

And Krancer called a Duke University study that found increased methane in water wells close to hydraulic fracturing sites in the Marcellus "biased science from biased researchers" and said it "came out as more of a media event than a real scientific study" (see Shale Daily, May 11).

Krancer repeated many common criticisms of the study -- that it failed to show any direct causes between hydraulic fracturing and water contamination, that it didn't test enough sites to get accurate data, and that testing took place in areas around Dimock, PA known to have troublesome geology -- but also revealed that the DEP is making informal inquiries about the study (see Shale Daily, Dec. 17, 2010).

In particular, Krancer said the DEP wants to know precisely where Duke researchers took samples in Pennsylvania and what samples it took, and the DEP also wants to know whether the study began because residents in Dimock initially contacted researchers Duke or vice versa.

Krancer acknowledged that the DEP must do a better job of promoting shale development in southeast Pennsylvania. Although the populous region around Philadelphia does not overlie the Marcellus Shale, many there are concerned about development upstream in the Delaware River watershed and most of the severance tax proposals coming out of the Pennsylvania General Assembly have been sponsored by southeast lawmakers.

Krancer also defended the DEP's work to date, saying current regulations "are the envy of the country and probably the envy of the world."

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