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Pennsylvania Publishing Wastewater Guidelines

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) plans to release a technical guidance this week explaining the details of wastewater regulations revised last year.

"This technical guidance is another step in this administration's continuing efforts to protect Pennsylvania's water resources," DEP Secretary Michael Krancer said. "This document clearly communicates to any facility seeking to increase its discharge of treated wastewater or to any facility seeking to start accepting wastewater that they must meet certain obligations."

The DEP revised discharge standards in August 2010, requiring natural gas operators to treat wastewater to the federal drinking water standard of less than 500 milligrams per liter (mg/l) of total dissolved solids (TDS), and in April 2011 called on the industry to stop sending wastewater to grandfathered facilities (see Shale Daily, April 20; Daily GPI, Aug. 26, 2010).

The technical guidance set to be published in the Nov. 12 Pennsylvania Bulletin will aim to help companies applying for permits and regulators considering permits get on the same page.

The time between the revision and the bulletin is longer than usual for regulations because the topic is a "sensitive issue," DEP Spokesman Kevin Sunday told NGI's Shale Daily.

The guidance arrives -- coincidentally, Sunday said -- amid renewed concerns about bromide levels on waterways and drinking water sources in southwestern Pennsylvania.

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PSWA) is accusing four industrial wastewater treatment plants of increasing bromide levels in the Allegheny River. While the PSWA isn't naming the facilities, it believes there may be a "link" with Marcellus Shale drilling.

In a report to be delivered at an American Water Works Association conference in Phoenix next week, the PSWA said its recent survey of the Allegheny "suggests that industrial wastewater treatment plants treating Marcellus Shale flowback water appear to be a major contributor of bromide to the Allegheny River," while acknowledging that "certain coal-fired power plants also appear to discharge bromide to the river, but to a lesser extent."

"We have signed, certified letters from the industry saying they aren't sending" wastewater from unconventional gas wells to those grandfathered treatment facilities, Sunday said.

The Associated Press last Thursday reported on preliminary findings from Carnegie Mellon University suggesting that bromide levels on the Monongahela River have declined since last summer, but remain higher than background levels -- suggesting that some source continues to dispose the compound into the river. Aside from natural gas drilling, other common sources of bromides include coal-fired power plants. Rainfall can also impact bromide concentrations.

Bromide is not a TDS, but is present in shale wastewater. If the industry is sending wastewater elsewhere, then bromide levels should decline or come from anther source, Sunday said.

Sunday also noted that there is no federal drinking water standard for bromide because the compound only becomes harmful to humans when mixed with certain other compounds.

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