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Pennsylvania DEP Removes Obstacle to Recycling Drilling Wastewater

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is consolidating three of its wastewater permits to encourage liquid waste recycling from oil and natural gas drilling, and to reduce water withdrawals.

The DEP said its revised Residual Waste Beneficial Use general permit would combine general permits WMGR119 and WMGR121 with WMGR123, which is the number for the new permit.

"They all did the same thing," DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday told NGI's Shale Daily on Thursday. "It was redundant to have three, so we combined everything into one to have some regulatory certainty."

According to the DEP, the revised permit establishes water quality criteria allowing processed water to be managed, stored and transported as freshwater. The agency said it regularly would test treatment facilities for 39 criteria -- including the presence of strontium, barium, total dissolved solids and radiation -- to ensure compliance with freshwater criteria. The permit also specifies that processed wastewater only may be used for hydraulic fracturing (fracking) at an oil or natural gas well.

"What's really new is that some facilities in Pennsylvania do an evaporation distillation process of the water," Sunday said. "When they do that, the finished water is about as pure as you can get with wastewater. We've established these criteria based on drinking water standards and some in-stream water quality standards. It's not quite potable water, but it's pretty close. Operators that treat their wastewater down to this freshwater standard can haul it around and transport it as freshwater, which it basically is.

"We're removing some of the barriers for industry and getting rid of an obstacle to recycling. We're thereby encouraging recycling and cutting down on the water withdrawals that would need to otherwise take place. Otherwise the operators will just be disposing the waste into an injection well and then needing to go and find a new place to get new freshwater."

The permit changes are to take effect Saturday. Ten facilities currently permitted under what would become the former permitting regimen automatically would have their permits switched to the new permit. The DEP is to begin reviewing permit applications from another 10 facilities in the state.

Last November the DEP published technical guidance of its wastewater regulations in the Pennsylvania Bulletin (see Shale Daily, Nov. 8, 2011). This followed decisions by the agency to require operators to treat wastewater to federal drinking water standards and to stop sending wastewater to grandfathered facilities for disposal (see Shale Daily, April 20, 2011; Daily GPI, Aug. 26, 2010).

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