Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Michael Krancer said a recent report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) was "incorrect and inapplicable to Pennsylvania in many respects," and urged the environmental group to reconsider its labeling of natural gas as a "dirty fossil fuel."
In a three-page letter with Monday's date to NRDC President France Beinecke, Krancer said he took issue with several of the group's claims in its 113-page report, "In Fracking's Wake: New Rules are Needed to Protect Our Health and Environment from Contaminated Wastewater," which was released in May.
"NRDC's math seems to be off with respect to Pennsylvania when it reports that only 30% of wastewater is being recycled," Krancer said. "Most fundamentally, NRDC incorrectly fails to include in the recycling category wastewater that is being sent to wastewater treatment facilities that fully meet the commonwealth's latest regulations on TDS [total dissolved solids]. These treatment facilities, for the most part, are treating wastewater for reuse, not discharge."
Last year Krancer, at the direction of Gov. Tom Corbett, called for operators to stop delivering wastewater from Marcellus Shale gas drilling to municipal treatment facilities, citing tougher TDS regulations (see Shale Daily, April 20, 2011). At issue is the possibility that nontoxic bromides removed from wastewater could combine with chlorine -- which is used to disinfect drinking water -- to form pollutants called trihalomethanes.
The DEP revised its discharge standards in August 2010, requiring operators to treat wastewater to the federal drinking water standard of less than 500 milligrams per liter of TDS. According to Krancer, operators reported delivering more than 1.97 million gallons (47,087 barrels) of wastewater to treatment plants during 1H2011. He said that for 2H2011, the number fell to 17,136 gallons (408 barrels), a reduction of more than 99%.
"We have even asked these [treatment] facilities to go above and beyond what is required in their permit and test for radiation if they are downstream of a facility that formerly discharged treated Marcellus Shale wastewater," Krancer said. "Our monitors have consistently shown no levels of radioactive materials above background."
Krancer also countered claims by the NRDC that state regulators allow wastewater from shale operations to be spread on state highways to de-ice them in the winter. "Only production or treated brines, other than brines produced from shale formations, may be used for road spreading," he said. "The use of drilling, hydraulic fracturing or plugging fluids or production brines mixed with well-servicing or treatment fluids (except surfactants) is prohibited."
Last month industry groups -- including the Marcellus Shale Coalition and America's Natural Gas Alliance -- raised questions about the scope of the NRDC's work and its conclusions in the report (see Shale Daily, May 11).