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EPA Asks Marcellus Producers About Wastewater

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wants to know how Marcellus Shale operators handle their produced water in Pennsylvania.

EPA Region 3 administration Shawn Garvin sent letters to six natural gas companies on Thursday asking for detailed information about current and future wastewater handling practices, both disposal and reuse. The EPA sent letters to Atlas Resources LLC, Cabot Oil and Gas Corp., Chesapeake Energy Corp., Range Resources Appalachia LLC, Talisman Energy USA and Shell Western Exploration and Production LP. requesting responses by May 25. Those companies account for more than half of the natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania.

Garvin also wrote to Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Michael Krancer about wastewater issues.

In April the DEP asked all drilling operators to voluntarily stop taking Marcellus wastewater to 15 grandfathered treatment facilities by May 19 (see Shale Daily, April 20). The DEP revised its total dissolved solids (TDS) regulations in 2010, requiring publicly owned and centralized waste treatment facilities to treat new or increased discharges of TDS to more stringent standards, but 27 grandfathered facilities across the state continued to accept the fluids (see Daily GPI, May 18, 2010). All but 15 have since voluntarily stopped taking wastewater.

Garvin acknowledged those actions but asked for more. "While we appreciate [DEP's] effort to reduce oil and gas wastewater discharges to Pennsylvania's waters, we believe modifications to the prior wastewater disposal practices should be legally enforceable to the greatest extent possible," Garvin wrote.

The letter makes several other requests concerning wastewater disposal, water testing and enforcement of existing standards. Garvin also reminded Krancer and regional officials that a federal underground injection control permit is required before placing hydraulic fracturing fluids into injection wells or bore holes. Injection is a common alternate to treatment, but is not feasible in much of Pennsylvania because of the geology.

Also on Thursday, the EPA issued a notice of violation to Tunnelton Liquids Co. for injecting solid sludge produced after treating oil and natural gas wastewater into an abandoned mine. Tunnelton operates a wastewater treatment facility in Indiana County, in southwest Pennsylvania.

This is not the first time the EPA has made its opinions known on Marcellus Shale regulation in Pennsylvania. In March, following a New York Times article claiming that wastewater from Marcellus Shale drilling operations threatened drinking water in Pennsylvania, Garvin wrote Krancer asking the DEP to immediately test local water supplies for radioactivity (see Shale Daily, March 9).

Krancer responded by detailing the DEP's calls for additional testing from treatment facilities and public water suppliers, with results due in mid April (see Shale Daily, April 12). Despite several requests, the DEP has not yet released the results of those tests to NGI's Shale Daily.

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