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Wastewater Consent Decree 'Imminent,’ Says Pennsylvania DEP

A Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) official said Wednesday a consent decree between the agency and a private company concerning pollution, possibly from oil and gas wastewater discharged from a treatment facility along the Allegheny River, is imminent.

Gary Clark, community relations coordinator for the DEP's Northwest Regional Office, told NGI's Shale Daily that months of negotiations with Waste Treatment Corp. (WTC) over its facility in Warren, PA, were nearing a successful conclusion.

"We've been talking to them for eight years, but the last three or four months we've started to really get some headway going," Clark said, adding that an announcement "will be made in the next week or so -- it's imminent."

Among the issues to be hammered out in the consent decree is how WTC will remediate the pollution cited by DEP inspectors when they visited the facility twice in October 2012.

According to Clark, the DEP issued a notice of violation (NOV) on Sept. 3 on the grounds that WTC failed to control the discharge and protect aquatic life in the Allegheny River, a violation of Part A of the company's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit. WTC's actions also constituted unlawful conduct under Section 6-11 of the state's Clean Streams Law.

"They really did it for polluting the river," Clark said, adding that the NOV issued "was a generic, general type thing. It does not mention drilling wastewater, only pollution. And we made it generic for that reason. Our inspectors have been there, but they did not find them putting gas liquids into the river."

"This will all be addressed in the consent decree -- what their fines will be, plus how much time they have to clean it up to fix it. It's going to be an expensive fix for them. But they've been in negotiations with us in good faith."

Clark added that any consent decree between the DEP and WTC would ultimately need to be approved by the state's Commonwealth Court, but said "that shouldn't be a problem."

On Monday the environmental group Clean Water Action (CWA) filed a lawsuit against WTC in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania in Erie (Clean Water Action v. Waste Treatment Corp., No. 1:13-CV-00328-CRE.

CWA alleges that WTC has been dumping wastewater from oil and gas drilling into the Allegheny River.

"They alleged that they were taking Marcellus Shale wastewater," Clark said. "And we have been told, and our reports show, that they do take Marcellus Shale wastewater, but they do a treatment to it and send it back out in trucks. It is not going into the river."

Mike Arnold, vice president of operations for WTC, told StateImpact Pennsylvania that the company stopped discharging Marcellus wastewater into the river in 2011, in compliance with a request by the DEP (see Shale Daily, Aug. 17, 2011; April 20, 2011). He said the wastewater is filtered and sent to an injection well for disposal, but he did not identify the well.

Arnold added that the plant had made several upgrades and planned to make more as part of the consent decree.

Matthew Wolford, an Erie-based attorney representing WTC in the federal complaint filed by CWA, blasted the environmental group.

“The portrayal of WTC...as environmentally irresponsible is false,” Wolford said in a letter last month to attorneys with the University of Pittsburgh School of Law’s Environmental Law Clinic, which had assisted in the filing.

“Moreover, inasmuch as a simple telephone call to the Water Management Permits Chief of the DEP’s Northwest Regional Office would have cleared up CWA’s misunderstandings, it appears that CWA made these false statements knowingly or in reckless disregard of the truth.”

Although WTC can legally accept and treat wastewater from conventional drilling and dispose of it in the river, Clark said the company was not doing so. Instead, Clark said WTC was treating the wastewater on-site and using trucks to haul it to injection wells for disposal.

"A consent decree will put [WTC] on a fine line as to what needs to be done, and when it has to be done, in order to maintain their treatment plant," Clark said, adding that the problem has been compounded by different criteria set by the DEP, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

"All of these folks have different criteria, but we believe we finally have settled on what the [new] criteria are," Clark said. "It's up to a judge to decide, but I think that [federal] suit will become moot once we have a consent decree and are actually doing something."

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