The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) issued separate permits to Patriot Water Treatment LLC and the City of Warren on Monday, barring the latter from accepting pre-treated wastewater from oil and natural gas drilling starting April 1.

OEPA spokesman Mike Settles told NGI's Shale Daily that Patriot's new permit would allow it immediately to accept and pre-treat up to 300,000 gallons/day (gpd) of wastewater from other sources before it goes to the city's wastewater treatment plant. The city's permit, which is renewable every five years, allows it to accept wastewater without any limits for total dissolved solids (TDS), or salts.

The state agency plans to monitor TDS levels twice a week from a site along the Mahoning River before the waterway enters Pennsylvania.

"After taking a look at public comments and concerns and talking with our staff, the [TDS] limit was removed," Settles said, adding that the additional testing would "make sure that TDS levels don't rise to a level that could pose either a concern for water quality, aquatic life or drinking water supplies downstream in Pennsylvania."

Settles said Patriot still would be allowed to accept and pre-treat brine from oil and gas drilling, but after April 1 could no longer pass it down to the city's municipal treatment plant. Patriot's previous permit allowed it to send and accept up to 100,000 gpd of wastewater containing TDS levels of up to 50,000 parts per million (see Shale Daily, Dec. 8, 2010).

"These [municipal] wastewater treatment plants don't do a really good job of removing all of the salts or TDS, and that's where the concern came in," Settles said. "We anticipate that when Warren stops taking the Patriot brine that TDS levels in the Mahoning River will drop to some degree. Patriot can continue to take the 100,000 [gpd] and pre-treat it; they would just need to find an appropriate end use or reuse for it."

Last May OEPA Director Scott Nally sent letters to Warren, as well as Steubenville and East Liverpool, OH, explaining that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) was the only agency authorized to issue brine disposal permits (see Shale Daily, May 20, 2011). The two other cities were at various stages of allowing their municipal wastewater treatment facilities to accept oil and gas drilling brine.

"We had looked at Warren as a kind of a test case and we authorized a pretty limited amount," Settles said. "But after we did that, [Nally] came on board. We held discussions with the ODNR, and it was determined that we didn't have the authority to [issue permits] to begin with.

"It's our understanding that the ODNR isn't going to allow brine to go through municipal plants either. For the most part, they want this stuff deep well-injected."

Patriot and Warren have filed complaints against state regulators over the permitting decision -- Patriot Water Treatment v. Korleski and City of Warren v. Korleski. A prehearing conference before the Ohio Environmental Review Appeals Commission is scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday, and a three-day de novo hearing is scheduled to begin on March 26. Gov. John Kasich touched on the dispute during a press conference with reporters last December (see Shale Daily, Dec. 21, 2011).