The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is sending certification letters to approximately 80 operators in the state, asking them to certify by Aug. 29 that they have stopped delivering wastewater from Marcellus Shale gas drilling to municipal treatment facilities.

The move follows a request by the DEP in April for operators to stop delivering the wastewater to 15 facilities in the state that were still accepting it by May 19, citing newly revised total dissolved solids (TDS) regulations (see Shale Daily, April 20).

“We are continuing our verification process, and this is just a part of that,” DEP spokeswoman Katy Gresh told NGI’s Shale Daily on Monday. Gresh added that other media reports that the certification letters were being used as a method to legally enforce compliance were inaccurate.

“It has been misconstrued that this has become legally enforceable, that this is something that we are now making a requirement,” Gresh said. “That’s not true. We’re not looking at it that way. We’re not doing it for any other reason but to give us a clearer picture of what, if anything, is still being delivered to these grandfathered facilities.”

The DEP revised its TDS regulations in 2010, requiring publicly owned and centralized waste treatment facilities to treat new or increased discharges of TDS to more stringent standards. The process of removing TDS from wastewater also removes nontoxic bromides, but these become pollutants called trihalomethanes (THM) when combined with chlorine, which is used at water treatment facilities to disinfect drinking water.

According to the DEP, elevated levels of bromide have been found in water samples taken from rivers in western Pennsylvania.

It appeared that most operators met the May 19 deadline, but the DEP later said it didn’t know if any operators were not in compliance. In a speech on May 24, Secretary Michael Krancer said the agency wouldn’t tolerate any “slackers” (see Shale Daily, May 26; May 20).

“The secretary’s intention with issuing this call was to focus on the supply and demand sides, but the supply side first,” Gresh said. “That was the goal in making the call to the operators, not the [treatment] plants. Our verification process has included conversations with drillers and with plants. But in this case we feel it’s most effective and we will accomplish our continued goal of verification to reach out directly to the drillers.”

The industry has been supportive of the move. “Our industry embraced DEP’s decision in April and believes this is the natural and right direction for the commonwealth and our environment,” Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC) President Kathryn Klaber said. “Spurred by ingenuity and technological advancements, our industry has revolutionized water reuse and recycling practices, helping to further reduce our environmental footprint and overall water consumption. It’s a win-win for the environment and future development of the Marcellus.”

Gresh declined to speculate on how many drillers were still delivering wastewater to the municipal treatment facilities but did say the state has experienced “a dramatic change.”

“We’ve gone from millions of gallons of wastewater being delivered to maybe a handful,” Gresh said. “But we want to completely 100% verify.”

According to the DEP, the 15 municipal treatment facilities are:

Brady Russell, spokesman for the environmental group Clean Water Action, agreed that the amount of wastewater still being delivered to municipal treatment facilities had dropped off significantly.

“It’s a good step. It seems like wastewater isn’t going to municipal treatment sites on balance anymore,” Russell told NGI’s Shale Daily on Tuesday. But he was also critical of the move, adding, “It continues to be strange that DEP is asking operators not to send wastewater to municipal treatment plants when the people that they really have the authority over are the wastewater treatment plants themselves.

“They shouldn’t be taking it anyway because nobody has a permit to take it. The DEP should just say that.”